"You can't have your privacy violated if you don't know your privacy is violated"

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers suggested during a hearing at the US National Security Agency (NSA) on Tuesday that it’s impossible to have your privacy violated if you don’t know that your privacy is being violated.

The Republican Congressman was interrogating American University College of Law professor Stephen Vladeck over his concerns about NSA surveillance programs.

Rogers put his argument this way:

Maybe the fact that we haven’t had any complaints come forward with any specificity arguing that their privacy has been violated clearly indicates - in 10 years - clearly indicates that something must be doing right. Somebody must be doing something exactly right.

Vladeck replied with this question:

But who would be complaining?

Which is when Rogers laid out his "if I peek into the windows at the sorority house and they don't find out, the police can't arrest me, right?" rationale. (Hat tip to Mediaite.com commenter Tenth Justice.)
To wit:

Somebody whose privacy was violated. You can’t have your privacy violated if you don’t know your privacy is violated, right?

So does the logic here apply elsewhere then? What about, say, hijacking webcams?

If your victim isn't aware that they've been leered at and photographed/videotaped while undressing, and you haven't gotten around to sextorting them yet, no crime was committed, right?

Furthermore, I would ask, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, a) has it made a sound, and b) does the NSA have their people on it to pick up on advances in coniferous intelligence operations?

Video courtesy of Breaking News 24x7.

Image of listening ear courtesy of Shutterstock.

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37 Responses to "You can't have your privacy violated if you don't know your privacy is violated"

  1. Colin · 712 days ago

    I quite like The House re-writing the constitution on the fly:
    "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges ... of citizens ... nor ... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny ... the equal protection of the laws... but only if the person finds out !"

    • Wakeup · 711 days ago

      opps....ya forgot about the new and improved version
      of the Constitution...the Homeland Security Act...

  2. Dan · 712 days ago

    Of course it is still being violated! That train of thought is like being a peeping-tom spying on a woman changing from the tree outside her window... If he doesn't get caught and she doesn't know about him... Suddenly that's not an invasion of privacy? Are you insane, Mike Rogers?

    • Abe · 711 days ago

      From the evidence in the article, you can't conclude whether he's insane. Just stupid certainly.

  3. Oliver · 712 days ago

    This is a well-known first-year law student question:
    If a person is sleeping in a room, and you lock them in, even if they don't know it, has a "Kidnapping" been committed?
    Sad to think that a government representative doesn't understand that the crime is not only limited to the victim's perception.

  4. Lisa Vaas · 712 days ago

    Y'all have to read Ken White's brilliant spoof: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20131030/1122322...

    • Spryte · 711 days ago


      results in: (404) Page Not Found.

      Perhaps someone didn't like it.

      • markstockley · 711 days ago

        Its working OK for me - if you entered what you typed into the comment then you appear to have only used half the URL.

    • John Beatty · 711 days ago

      Lisa, this techdirt link is broken?

      • Lisa Vaas · 711 days ago

        Yea, what Mark said: Looks like maybe you didn't enter the whole URL? It's working for me... It's confusing, though, since the line breaks, at least on my weensy screen. At any rate, you can always just search on "Rep. Mike Rogers Angrily Defends Bathroom Spycam."

        • Adam · 710 days ago

          Link not working here either in Chrome. Looks like the link itself is shortened to what is before the elipses (...)

          • markstockley · 710 days ago

            Hi Adam,

            Our blog uses a comment system called IntenseDebate, if you have javascript disabled or IntenseDebate blocked then you'll see the native comments. In IntenseDebate (that Lisa and I are seeing) the URL is not truncated. In the native comments it's truncated - apologies.

            We'll get that fixed but in the meantime here's a short link to the same destination that hopefully won't truncate.

  5. Dave · 711 days ago

    This is but one of the reasons we need to get rid of all these guys and start over with:

    1. Term Limits.
    2. Limited Public Campaign Financing while outlawing all other forms.
    3. Make being a lobbyist a capital offense.

    • roy jones jr · 709 days ago

      I completely agree. Good luck going to those people and telling them that. There have always been solutions. But humans don't like being "thrown out of comfort zones"

  6. Mick A · 711 days ago

    Can someone remind me again how the word 'Intelligence' crept into the House Committee?

  7. Muarist · 711 days ago

    Mwhaha, if we start working that logic, how about this:

    If I slap you in the face and you didn't knew I slapped you in the face, I didn't slap you in the face?...

    • Lisa Vaas · 710 days ago

      That would be particularly egregious for those with paralyzed faces.

  8. Vox Populi · 711 days ago

    OK Mike...We'll shoot you in the back of the head.
    That way you won't know, which means you weren't shot.
    Fair enough...

  9. outsidethemarginals · 711 days ago

    You can’t have your privacy violated if you don’t know your privacy is violated, right?


    If you are instantly killed by an assassin's high velocity bullet, you don't know that you have been murdered, so you have not been murdered?

    If you nick some data from say the NSA (and hand it over to any of the growing number of nations viewed as potentially hostile by the USA), but the NSA do not realise, no data has been nicked?

    Wow the potential for defences to all sorts of mischief is huge! Madness

  10. Michael · 711 days ago

    That's just stupid. The person who was violated may not know about it, but the one/s who are violating them do. As soon as they realize what they are doing is a violation they should stop, as they are supposed to be enforcing and upholding laws as part of the services/duties they perform. Whether or not they are caught by the victim shouldn't even be relevant in that train of thought.
    As for the tree falling and whether it makes a sound or not if no one is there to hear it comparison, it doesn't apply. The NSA was in the forest and heard the tree fall, they are just not telling anyone they heard it.

  11. I never posted this · 711 days ago

    I completely agree! I'll be the first to say it. The law does this on a daily basis. Rape cases, murders, child abuse and neglect can go to court with not enough legal documentation to make the point clear and the case is thrown out, which in lament terms means it didn't happen till you have the proof.

    [Edited for brevity]

    Those who say it is illegal are judging if it is right or wrong, not if it is legal or not and the only way to prove it is illegal is to prove that information gained through PRISM was used against you. Once that happens PRISM will have legal issues. The bad guys won't confess that the information they got was illegally obtained because they would be admitting guilt and most likely a majority of that information won't show up in court.

  12. Jim · 711 days ago

    Great logic Mike! Let's see if I can apply this to another scenario. You can't be robbed if you don't know you've been robbed. Right?

    What's your address Mike?

  13. Mel · 711 days ago

    So, by this reasoning, the government can do anything they want to us and as long as they keep it a secret, that makes it ok?!!! Are you kidding me? Or, how about this, any crime against individuals or humanity is acceptable just as long as no one ever finds out about it?

  14. Someone · 711 days ago

    Does this interpretation mean, that when I close my eyes, the world doesn't exist either?

  15. I never posted this · 711 days ago

    I completely agree! I'll be the first to say it. The law does this on a daily basis. Rape cases, murders, child abuse and neglect can go to court with not enough legal documentation to make the point clear and the case is thrown out, which in lament terms means it didn't happen till you have the proof.

    You do understand he is making the case for being legal or illegal not if it is right or wrong. The NSA is not concerned with law, we have other places that do that. FBI, your local law enforcement and the courts to name a few. So far no court has stated that PRISM is illegal, unless you could link me to such a case.

    • John W. · 711 days ago

      This is not about legality but morality, as a human being I don't want other human beings to spy upon me. The fact that they work for the NSA doesn't make it right, they are still humans and therefore have to respect the same moral rules than anyone else.

      From the countless contributors to the NSA and related, only Ed. Snowden remembered these moral rules apparently... Surely because the others feel they are endorsed by the system they live in and so /really/ think they're not doing anything wrong (as Mike Rogers just proved).

      You can explain the most horrible things ever done by humanity with the above reasoning.

  16. Anonymous · 711 days ago

    As long as the teacher doesn't catch me cheating, it's not cheating.

  17. Lindsay Swadling · 711 days ago

    "Challenge accepted, Mike Rogers!" I'm sure someone will say as they hijack his ID.

  18. Tony · 711 days ago

    This is the same argument that if a woman is drugged and sexually assaulted, then no offence was committed because she was not aware of it at the time?

    It should really be the other way round - NSA should be able to prove that my privacy is NOT being violated.

    Having once had my phone tapped (a neighbour was eventually convicted of nuisance calls, but they tapped all the phones of houses that could see the victim) I certainly felt violated when I discovered this after the event (although I had suspicions that there was something strange going on with the phone at the time).

  19. John Doe · 711 days ago

    Looks like "House Intelligence Committee" should be renamed to "House Without Any Intelligence And Above Any Law Committee" while Chairman is Mike Rogers. It's my impression from his statements in this article.

  20. this is hilarious!
    it's like saying that if you hide well enough your deeds, you are allowed to do anything you like!
    Then what if I steal money from an online casino and the guys from the casino don't notice it but you guys from NSA

    know about it!?
    Can I then spend the money with no worries?

  21. John · 709 days ago

    I think Mr. Rogers demonstrates that he believes that rule no. 1 is: Don't get caught. If he believes there are more rules has not become clear to me.

  22. Wolf_Star · 707 days ago

    "If you don't realize your money is being siphoned out of an account in tiny increments, you're not being robbed."

    "If your child is being molested and you don't know about it, it isn't happening."

    "If all of your medical history is being passed around various agencies without your knowledge or permission, your privacy is not being viloated."

    So when that video of Rep Rogers engaging in somewhat questionable activities surfaces on YouTube, so long as he doesn't know about it, his privacy hasn't been violated...right?

    I really, really, really wish we could pass a Constitutional Amendment limiting members of Congress to 2 terms, just like the president. Why should they be allowed to stay in office for decades destroying the country from within when the president can't?

  23. It's too bad that communication simplicity has gone the way of good manners -- there but rarely used. Hard to take Mike Rodgers as seriously as what he must have intended when he chooses to insert a riddle rather than actual reason into his argument.

    This, the proverbial 'if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really fall?

    Technology has far surpassed the average needs of everyday people, but not so their need for privacy whether they understand it or not.

    Bottom line: We each are our first and sometimes only line of defense between living an independent existence or being eyeballed at every turn.

  24. We should not use any mor internet, cell phones and all kind of electronic stuff. I gave all my personal information to some casino and poke online operators, so nae everybody know everything about me and my incomes :)

    • Ivan85 · 615 days ago

      It's really insane, sooon they will start to put cameras in your homes and will say: if you don't know, that we spy you, your privacy is not violated!

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.