President Barack Obama reassured us over the weekend that no one is sitting around listening to all of our telephone conversations.
That's good, because that would be the worst job in the world.
"Hi, this is Ron at VIP calling to tell you that your car is ready.
"Thanks, Ron, did you find that 'clunk, clunk' my wife hears when she turns the wheel?"
"Yep, we replaced that ball joint and you are all set."
Imagine listening to that kind of stuff for days on end, or listening to us listen to Muzak while we wait on hold.
The president's reassurance comes at a bad time, given recent revelations that the Internal Revenue Service was throwing every road block it could find at anti-big-government tea party organizations.
The IRS denied for several years doing this, even when asked directly by Congress. The agency kept denying it was doing so even after higher-ups in Washington told their underlings to stop doing it.
Finally, an IRS official slipped a little apology into an inconsequential speech in hopes the public would miss the admission.
Officials chose to do this rather than go back to congressmen and admit they had lied or had been seriously out of touch with their own organization.
What this means, of course, is that bureaucracies often act on their own, they act in their own interest and that interest may be very different than the public interest.
So, it is good we are about to, as everyone seems to say these days, "have a conversation" about government secrecy, which really means Congress will call some people on the carpet to explain themselves.
It's good we do so because, the last time we did, Americans got an eye-popping vision of where our government was headed.
It was 2002 when Vice Admiral John Poindexter, who had graduated first in his class in 1958 from the Naval Academy and had earned a Ph.D. in physics from Cal Tech, was given $200 million to set up a new national security organization.
This was just after 9/11 when the U.S. Congress began throwing lots of secret money at secret security organizations.
Congress should have known the admiral was on the wrong track when he chose, as the organizations's seal, the all-seeing-eye-of-God casting an eerie light upon the world.
While it was called the Information Awareness Office, the Latin slogan on the seal said "scientia est potentia" — information is power.
Why is it when people want to say something, but don't want you to know what they are saying, they put it in Latin?
Its stated mission was to achieve "total information awareness" in an effort to catch terrorists.
Really. You can look this up.
Poindexter told Congress he would achieve total awareness by using super computers to store information on everyone in the United States including e-mails, social networks, credit card records, travel histories, phone calls and anything else it felt necessary to do its work.
This would be used to maintain permanent personal records on everyone in the U.S. and, eventually, the world.
Poindexter thought big.
The organization would then apply complex algorithms to this information to identify people who might be up to no good.
No one thought, apparently, that someone might hack this information, or that someone working on the inside might use the data to ruin his ex-wife's life.
Ultimately, Poindexter wanted funding for biometric cameras to weed out suspicious people when, for instance, they went to board airplanes.
That Poindexter presented this all in public and with a straight face is testament to how out of touch hard-core spooks can become with the values of the American people.
Congress eventually defunded the IAO, but experts speculate some of Poindexter's pet projects were secretly carried forward by existing security agencies.
Clearly, the warehousing and analysis of all phone conversations sounds suspiciously like what he had in mind and which Congress rejected in 2002.
Experts estimate that the U.S. has more than 1 million people with top-security clearances, including government employees and contractors. They work in massive facilities around the country, have the latest technology and billions of dollars to spend.
In short, this is a beast that bears watching.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.