Yet another reason we can't just sit around, read these NSA revelations, and say "Oh well, of course the government's going to spy on everybody, whatchoogonnadooo..."
NSA actions pose 'direct threat to journalism,' leading watchdog warns
The government has never before had the ability to unmask every confidential reporter/source connection as a blanket rule. Whether or not this was the case when they requisitioned the Associated Press records recently -- the "4th Estate" (the Press) in the US is no longer free or independent, if the government can simply Hoover up all a reporter's connections passively... along with all the rest of the citizens. What this means is an end to whistleblowing. Who will want or be able to disclose legitimate cases of government abuses, if they know their disclosure can be traced?
Even if you happen to believe that people like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden really are traitors -- despite how I've shown that the "harm" they did to national security is nonexistent -- even if you believe that anyway, then surely you can see how this policy quashes future dissent and legitimate internal reform.
We already know that the Obama Administration, despite sympathetic rhetoric, has been more hostile to whistleblowers than any previous American Presidential administration. So what happens when some other Administration, one that we trust less than Obama, gets into power?
Yes, yes, on January 17, Obama gave an address where he called for the NSA to relinquish control over the phone portion of the nation's data. (Not to stop collecting it, mind you, but to relinquish direct control.) As Ted Rall says, this is too little, too late. Obama proposes that the NSA hand over control to access of this data, back to the FISA court. You know, the rubberstamp court, that meets in secret, the one which has rejected 11 government requests for your data -- out of roughly 34,000-- since 1979, and none within the past three years.
It is a key facet of the definition of totalitarianism, when the State seeks to prevent anyone from going outside the system to expose abuses. That's the "total" in Totalitarianism. And that's the difference between a sane, democratic country's security policy, and ours. Innocent until proven guilty. You only launch an investigation in response to a specific crime or harm. You don't just Hoover up all communications in the hope that somewhere, somehow in that big pile, you can find something interesting. The latter is paranoia, and totalitarianism. The latter is the first concrete, tangible step towards subjugating all citizens, and treating them as a national resource to be controlled and managed, rather than free independent people.