TLAs* probably have access to all your online communications. Everything in your email, your Google Docs, your Facebook messages, your SkyDrive, your Twitter DMs and everything else. They can likely tell who you’ve been calling and texting, and where you are from the GPS in your phone.

There’s been an awful lot about this in the news lately, with the focus largely on the US intelligence agencies and GCHQ in the UK (the Chinese and Russians must be having a good chuckle to themselves), and it’s generated a significant public outcry. The thing that surprises me the most is that people were aware of these huge spying organizations – what the heck did people think they were all doing??

Gone are the days of spies hanging round shady alleys in Berlin, meeting someone from the other side with a scrap of intel. In today’s world, humint just doesn’t scale. It’s not like elint is always better, but you can collect a heck of a lot more data at the speed of light and analyse it to spot patterns that simply wouldn’t have been visible before. This is an age where not every threat to your nation is another nation. It’s harder to see where the threats are coming from.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that people shouldn’t be able to get a bit of privacy, but I do wonder if people are worrying a bit too much about the wrong thing.

Actually, after the initial shock, especially in the tech media, we’re starting to see more reports of “ordinary Americans” who are happy that the government is taking these steps to protect them from terrorists. People seem to be quite open to the idea of establishing precrime investigation. Stopping terrorists ahead of time is a good idea. Stopping run-of-the-mill murderers is a good idea too, right? It’s like Person of Interest; I like that series – all the bad guys get what’s coming to them with little collateral damage. Or maybe it’s like Minority Report – it depends on your perspective, and who is in power.

Here’s an interesting thing that I was mulling over recently: if governments around the world could nip everything bad in the bud (terrorism, violent crime, theft, everything), would that actually have some side-effects that we wouldn’t want? I know that sounds crazy, but I did start to wonder whether I’d want my child growing up with nothing to fear from other people, and how would it affect economies, etc? My head isn’t capable of getting that all untwisted (like the mess you can get in with time travel), so feel free to tell me how crazy I might be in the comments.

* Three Letter Agencies.