When I was preparing my blog entry about the Gold Standard in Free communications, I had absolutely no idea that The Guardian (another Ganglia user) would be hot on my heels with dramatic revelations about US Government surveillance of dangerous terrorists and maybe sucking up a little bit of data about a few hundred million of their own citizens and another 90% of the world's population for good measure.

Some people even thought I've been a bit paranoid with my concerns about excessive surveillance. However, it is just remarkable to see that in the same week that the trial of Bradley Manning is getting under way for inappropriate use of his employer's computer, the US has been exposed plotting cyber attacks and setting a very bad example for all those little script kiddies out there.

Practical questions for every one of us

Is it time to start blocking email to and from sites like gmail and hotmail?

What about the reports that the US Government was engineering back doors in the OpenBSD operating system? Have any open source projects actually been comprised in this way?

Will spammers and other criminals take this as a cue that there is nothing morally wrong with hacking?

Have certificate authorities been infiltrated too? They may well be the elephant in the room - while everybody was joking about the NSA key hidden in the depths of Microsoft Windows, maybe one or more of the well known trusted root certificates, right under our noses, is also a back door?

The danger is real

Anybody wondering about the practical implications of all this data gathering doesn't have to look very far to find out what can go wrong. In the same week as all these things were exposed, there have been more dramatic revelations about law enforcement officers selling private data for their own commercial gain. While the vast majority of police are surely good citizens, every organisation has it's bad apples and as Bradley Manning demonstrated so well, it only takes one person to breach security and enormous volumes of data can end up escaping.