Could've been any Joe

The Pentagon says it's working on robotic spies the size of flying insects for military surveillance in the year 2030 or beyond.


But the landscape is already crawling with pesky little spies in 2008.

The Ohio Office of the Inspector General reveals in a report that of 18 government agency information searches on Samuel Joe Wurzelbacher -- Joe the Plumber -- "eight were conducted by various agencies without any legitimate business purpose."

Helen Jones-Kelley, director of the state's Department of Job and Family Services, has been suspended without pay for a month for allowing the fishing expeditions to go on in her department.

Jones-Kelley was also using state equipment to raise money for Barack Obama.

It's bad enough what the media did to Wurzelbacher. Now, we find the government was all over him too, behind his back.

This is a man, mind you, who was merely tossing the football with his son during the presidential campaign when Barack Obama showed up on the street. Wurzelbacher asked an innocent question about Obama's tax plans, prompting the candidate to make his now-legendary remark about spreading the wealth around.

Media outlets combed the man's background for dirt, questioned his motives -- and tried to make him the whole point, rather than his question or Obama's answer.

That's just sad.

But it's alarming that government officials would feel free to spy on John Q. Public -- or Joe the Plumber -- simply because he stepped inadvertently into the spotlight.

Jones-Kelley's suspension was a slap on the wrist. Someone who is politicking on the public dime, and knowingly allowing spies to search through public information for dirt on a citizen, ought to be unceremoniously fired.

As the Columbus Dispatch says, "This misuse of government power against a citizen is a grave matter. Americans should be able to challenge politicians without fear that government officials will try to damage their reputations. Fear of being targeted in that way can chill political speech and participation."

Who's next?