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Hacktivists provide checks and balances

I find myself torn over the potential that the FBI has been gathering information on iPhone users.

A hacktivist group Antisec has published details of around a million iPhone users it claims it picked up from an FBI laptop - a claim the security agency predictably denies.

On one hand I applaud Antisec's effort on this. It's important that we, the people, know that information is being collected by government agencies across the world. The group didn't do any harm by publishing details - removing key personal data that would allow less scrupulous types to exploit it for personal gain. At the same time, though, I believe government agencies are, and have, prevented acts of terrorism by monitoring mobile calls and smartphone/online activity.

A less dramatic example is the riots in London in August 2011. Many of the people on the streets utilized smartphones and associated messenger systems, and social networks, to organize themselves and attempt to foil police attempts to stop the riots. Those same systems were subsequently used by the authorities to track down ringleaders and take them to court. UK authorities also use these mechanisms to clamp down on web trolls - people who hide behind the anonymity of social media to post insulting and derogatory comments about others that most of us wouldn't find acceptable if they were hollered in our local pub.

I guess the key thing here is the old adage 'who will guard the guards?' While I accept that most of us are unaffected by government monitoring of our communications, I wonder how we stop security agencies going too far with the information they collect and infringing civil liberties.

It seems that, for the time being, the job of providing checks and balances is in the hands of hacktivist groups.