in the private sector it's pretty much impossible to put together a database as comprehensive as what the government can gather by force
True. But the private sector (insurance, credit reporting, medical, telcom, etc.) can freely collect personal information that it would (technically) require a court order for our government to gather - assuming government even had any legal authority to collect it to begin with.
So one insidious manifestation of our surveillance state is that the government to allows the private sector to do the heavy lifting and routinely abuse our privacy. Which is why there's so much reluctance to provide any comprehensive privacy protections under law. The fact you don't have much privacy in the ironically named "private sector" is a goldmine for government snoops. Which is why (I believe) there never will be
any meaningful privacy legislation passed on the federal level in this country.
Consider, Uncle Sam can't demand to know where you're spending your cash. And if he does you can always refuse to answer. But your credit card company and bank are very accommodating when Uncle comes calling and asking for information. And subpoenaing phone and credit records has been a routine part of police procedure for the last thirty years.
PRISM is the most egregious attempt on the part of our government to spy on its own citizens. But it's really only an additional and highly centralized version of something that's been going on with increasing intrusiveness in the USA since the start of the Cold War.
I think the main reason why PRISM finally was created was purely for efficiency. And because certain elements in our government are now firmly convinced that most Americans no longer care and have concluded they can finally get away with it.
And if they get away with it - or simply stonewall and hope the public will not be able to remain focused on the threat PRISM represents long enough - then we're all screwed.
Right now I'm waiting for a 'distraction' to be introduced.
Maybe a major US military action in some other part of the world (like Syria)...or some crisis escalation with a major power like China. It worked for the Bush administration when our deployment into Iraq got everybody's mind off the Enron fiasco. Waving the flag is hard work. Especially when saying good-bye to loved ones who may not be coming back.
A similar 'distraction' could work the trick for this administration too. Right now my
money is on Syria.