Government officials' reactions to revelations the privacy of millions of Americans has been invaded would be laughable were the situation not so serious.
Among questionable activities engaged in by the National Security Agency has been secretly seizing telephone records of millions of Americans - and monitoring many calls.
NSA officials say there is no cause for worry. After all, they assured the public, the agency has the technical ability to avoid illegal spying on Americans.
Well, yes. Of course the NSA is capable of protecting privacy. One method we might suggest would be to refrain from poking around law-abiding citizens' phone records in the first place.
But that isn't what the NSA has in mind. One example of safeguards the agency cited was destroying records it obtained improperly. And there are complex computer programs to sift through data to identify that with security implications.
That isn't the point, of course. Being capable of safeguarding Americans' liberties and actually doing so can be different things.
The NSA has crossed a line simply by obtaining private information. That infringement cannot be undone - and government claims the records will not be used illegally are no comfort to Americans worried about basic liberties.