Not to worry, the government’s apologists offered, this is only telephone macro-metadata, meaning information about who spoke to whom, when they talked and for how long, and where they were when they talked, but not what they actually said to each other. When Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, stated under oath at a House hearing that his spies lack the authority to capture content, he avoided addressing whether they have the ability to do so, because he knows they do. His boss, James Clapper, the director of nationalintelligence and a less finessed liar than the general, said under oath at a Senate hearing flatly that the feds were not gathering massive amounts of data about hundreds of millions of Americans, when he knew that they were. And President Obama himself has stated on a few occasions that the government “is not reading” your emails or “listening” to your phone conversations, even though he knows they can.
Since the essence of spying is stealing and keeping secrets, we should not be surprised when that essence is supported by deception and lying. But lying to one’s employers (the American people) is a fireable offense, and lying under oath (to Congress) is a criminal offense. And a government that lies over and over again to the people it is lawfully obliged to serve is not believable and leads to lawlessness.