This article in the UK news magazine i100 has been widely shared:

Tory MP accused of quoting Joseph Goebbels in defence of new surveillance bill in the Commons

A Conservative MP used a quote widely attributed to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels while defending the government's new surveillance bill.

Richard Graham, the MP for Gloucester, was addressing the House of Commons on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill when he said that "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear".


The exact origin of the quote "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" is unclear. It has been attributed to both the Nazi Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels as well as a description of the idea of the all-seeing state in George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984. It is often used as a defence of mass surveillance.

Nevertheless, comparisons were quickly drawn online: [embedded tweets, etc]

The article acknowledges that there is uncertainty about the origin of the quote, and it does not try to imply that the MP deliberately quoted Goebbels, acknowledging that it's a common phrase. It also doesn't appear to claim that, if Goebbels used it, this was its first ever usage (which can be disproved, it was apparently used in print in 1918).

But the article is based on the premise that the phrase can be linked to Goebbels.

Is there any evidence that this is indeed a phrase Goebbels actually used? (in any public speeches, official statements, interviews, exerts of conversations in books our court statements, or any other such quotable pronouncements)

Since it will likely have been translated from German anyway, semantically close variants like for example "You need not have fear if you have no guilty secrets" or similar are allowable - anything where this wording could be a not-wrong translation of the original German.

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    The German quote is 'Wer nichts zu verbergen hat, hat auch nichts zu befürchten' (who has nothing to hide, has also nothing to fear) and has been often used during the last 10-15 years in Germany when governmental surveillance is discussed. It is easy too find several claims that the quote is from Goebbels, but if at all mentioned, the exact situation in which he supposedly has said so, are often different. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Nov 6 '15 at 10:55
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    During a census in Germany that quite a few people disliked, one politician side "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear". And got the refutation based on German privacy laws "I thought the rule was if you have something to hide, you have nothing to fear". – gnasher729 Nov 6 '15 at 23:43
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    Wikiquote.DE on Joseph Goebbels considers this phrase "wrongly attributed", stating that there is "no proof he ever said this", and that the frequently mentioned speech "Goebbels, Rede zur Introduktion der GeStaPo 1933" never happened ("Introduktion" being a highly unusual expression in German). – DevSolar Dec 1 '17 at 14:10
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    A 1917 German reference says "es ist nichts zu verbergen, es ist nichts zu befürchten" books.google.com/… – DavePhD Dec 1 '17 at 14:14
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    The point is more that even if Goebbels DID say it at some time, on film or audio recorded, even, that wouldn't make it notable if everyone and their mother had said it. The context of the quoted passage is it originating with him. – PoloHoleSet Dec 1 '17 at 17:42

For starters, -1 to the question because the quote/concept being attributed to Goebbels usually implies he came up with it, or at the very least that he popularized it. You've interpreted attribution as a more trivial, journalistic attribution "has he ever said that", after acknowledging it's a common phrase.

Goebbels clearly did not come up with it. Upton Sinclair used it in his 1917 The Profits of Religion: An Essay in Economic Interpretation. Quoting the text:

Not merely was my own mail opened, but the mail of all my relatives and friends—people residing in places as far apart as California and Florida. I recall the bland smile of a government official to whom I complained about this matter: "If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear."

Now if someone wants to make the case that Goebbels popularized it... good luck with that.

And take this as you will, but one Belgian web site says it has contacted an expert in Nazi propaganda (Prof. Randall Bytwerk), and is quoting the reply as

I have read a great deal of material by Goebbels, but have never seen a case in which he said this.

Someone else has traced the quotation to a novel by Upton Sinclair in The Profits of Religion (do a books.google.com search for the phrase and you will find it.

In short, it is highly unlikely that Goebbels said this. As is usually the case with such quotations, no one who cites it provides a source.

Randall Bytwerk

  • I didn't interpret attribution in that "journalistic" way, the tabloid article I quoted interpreted it that way. If you don't like that usage of the word (and I'd agree with you, I don't like it either), write a letter to The Independent. My question is asking if there's any factual basis to their associating the phrase with him at all, after showing that they're using "attributed" in a very loose (arguably, sloppy) way. – user568458 Dec 2 '17 at 7:14
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    @user568458: No, the article you quoted did not interpret it that way. It very obviously talks about the "exact origin" (emphasis mine) of the quote (and actually casts doubt on that itself). This makes Fizz' answer spot-on. – DevSolar Jan 3 '18 at 10:20

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