Many tech-savvy, privacy-minded experts knew (as Brian Doherty noted earlier) that the National Security Agency was engaged in significant amounts of surveillance, even if the full extent was not clear (or not validated to the degree that it has just become).
Because of the efforts of President Barack Obama's Administration to quash any release of even a smidgen of information about the government's surveillance program, his comment today that he looked forward to a "debate" on the issue was met with skepticism. Then, hours later, the Department of Justice responded to a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation trying to stop the release of a secret court opinion connected to the very surveillance program about which Obama claimed to want to debate. Via the Huffington Post:
A 2011 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling found the U.S. government had unconstitutionally overreached in its use of a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The National Security Agency uses the same section to justify its PRISM online data collection program. But that court opinion must remain secret, the Justice Department says, to avoid being "misleading to the public."
The DOJ was responding to a lawsuit filed last year by the Electronic Frontier Foundation seeking the release of a 2011 court opinion that found the government had violated the Constitution and circumvented FISA, the law that is supposed to protect Americans from surveillance aimed at foreigners.
The DOJ had been given a Friday deadline to submit the filing, well before the revelation of the PRISM program's existence in The Washington Post and The Guardian on Thursday.
The DOJ isn't even arguing that the opinion must be sealed to protect national security. It's just that us silly citizens won't understand it.