Asecret agency receives a secret order from a secret court approving a secret program to sift through the private data of hundreds of millions of Americans.

That's enough to make the tin-foil hat crowd look fairly reasonable.

After all, it's not paranoia if your government really is spying on you.

Our leaders -- those few who knew about the National Security Agency's collection of our phone records -- say the program is necessary to protect us from terrorist.

Isn't that a small price to pay to keep the homeland safe?

That's a question that should have been asked, and a discussion that should have been had, before the government began poking around in our private lives.

Our immediate reaction: It's absolutely not worth surrendering our privacy on the off chance a plot is in the works and might be revealed.

If we roll over and surrender this right, how far might the government go in the name of security?

President Obama says relax, no one is listening in on our calls.

Well, why not?

If collecting information such as the numbers we call, when we call, from where and for how long helps prevent attacks, wouldn't it be easier to simply eavesdrop?

They wouldn't do that; that would be, what ... outrageous?

What the government is doing now is outrageous.

All that said -- convince us it's worth our privacy.

Show us what our privacy has bought in the seven years the surveillance program has been active.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D- California, says it has helped thwart at least one plot, but that, apparently, is secret too.

And what safeguards are in place to ensure our information isn't misused? How long will it be kept? Who has access to it?

We can't weigh the risks if we don't know what they are.

The government's response to the public outcry has been chilling in a way, essentially "Just trust us; we'll keep you safe."

Which leads us to wonder who will keep us safe from our government.