Heres the Scoop on Whether to Snoop

In just one week, severe damage may have been inflicted on our personal privacy-or at least on our privacy on public and private networks.

In just one week, severe damage may have been inflicted on our personal privacy—or at least on our privacy on public and private networks. First, it has been widely reported that a database containing information on world leaders who attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was hacked and that personal information was compromised.

Officials quickly responded that merely a "remnant" database was hacked and not the official database, slight consolation to those remnant people storing credit card information in the database.

Of course, ordinary peoples data is hacked all the time—that is, when its not sold or given away during hostile takeovers and mergers and acquisitions. This time, however, its world leaders data at stake, and that means tough laws will probably be enacted quickly. Tough, quickly enacted laws unfortunately have bad side effects usually—in this case, the possible loss of personal rights.

Meanwhile, international terrorist Osama bin Laden is reportedly using the Internet to plan massive attacks—perhaps even on the countries whose leaders had credit card information stolen. Laden used encrypted chat boards on porno sites to post instructions for terrorism. Good thinking, Laden! No one would ever think to look there for illicit information!

Many on the enforcement side of the law might say that the reports on Laden and on the Davos conference provide evidence that the government should stoop to systematic snooping, using technologies like the Clipper chip and the FBIs Carnivore surveillance tool.

Those with a more libertarian bent might say these incidents have nothing to do with ordinary U.S. citizens and that the government absolutely should not have any access to the things we do in private.

The rest of us are somewhere in between. No one wants to be snooped on, but no one wants the United States to become a hotbed of terrorist activity either.

Fear of terrorist attacks means that snoopers will win. Meanwhile, companies that usually sell security services to the three-letter government agencies are starting to release their software to the general public. Raytheon, for example, has unveiled SilentRunner—a marvelous surveillance tool that monitors all traffic on an intranet for suspicious activity.

Ive seen this product, and it is powerful. Raytheon will sell it to anyone with enough cash—reportedly about $65K. But Im looking at it a little differently: If SilentRunner is the version available to the general public, just think of the one that might be concealed from plain sight, perhaps in one of those Virginia suburbs.

Let the snooping begin.