"Certainly, during the Cold War nobody would have thought of OPM as a target for identity theft or espionage," said National Security Council cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel during a press conference call on Thursday. "Just the nature of paper files and the way that we thought about information didn't lend itself to that."
And THIS - this right here - is the problem with equating the mass collection of data with anything that has preceded it. Metadata collection is not equivalent to hiring someone to look at addresses on an envelope. CCTV cameras everywhere, hooked up to huge banks of storage and monitored by advanced facial-recognition software is not the same as having an undercover police officer surveil a suspect. And requiring encryption that can be broken by a third party is not the same as being able to enter a house with a warrant.
Physical files take a certain amount of time and effort to steal, and that increases as the volume of the haul increases. Likewise, trailing a person to find out where they go takes resources and this limits how many people can be so monitored and for how long. Same with search a house - warrant or not - it takes people and planning and time.
The fact that the 'traditional' way of getting at this information is labour-intensive and, therefore, costly means that law enforcement agencies have to prioritise their resources and results, generally, in having to make a case for assigning those resources to specified targets.
The current situation, where data on everybody can be slurped without any extra effort, is the essential evil because it makes something that should be exceptional into something that becomes viewed as common-place.
Glad at least someone in one of our governments has begun to glimpse the hazy outlines of this truth.