There are services for encrypting phone calls end to end, like Silent Circle, which announced discounts citing "overwhelming demand" for their services following the NSA spying reports. In addition to calls, the company also offers encrypted video, texting and email over its network. End-to-end encryption aims to encrypt information through all phases -- at rest, in transit and in use.
There is also RedPhone and TextSecure, two mobile apps made by open source developer WhisperSystems, for end-to-end encryption of phone calls and text messages, respectively. Cryptocat is another player.
But the thinking goes that if you take the government at its word, then the NSA is not listening in on phone calls anyway, at least not in a blanketed way. Instead, it's more like the government is saying to telecommunications companies, "Hey, so-and-so sent out 100 billion text messages. Send those to me," Schneier said.
There are legal avenues to gain access to encrypted data and some of these would oblige companies to either provide the keys or provide the unencrypted data.
In its privacy statement, Silent Circle acknowledges that its servers "generate log files that contain IP addresses," and notes that every six months the company will post how many data requests from worldwide law enforcement agencies it has received, how many customers were involved and what agency or organization made the request.
But gag orders may not accomplish much if the data is truly encrypted end to end, which is what companies like Silent Circle try do. However, end-to-end encryption is hard to achieve and increases costs.
Government metadata analysis alone should raise concerns among U.S. residents, said EFF's Schoen. The practice of looking at who is contacting whom might sound boring to some, or prompt the question, "what's the privacy harm there?" said Schoen. But if the government can track a person's IP address, that information can be used to, say, reveal a love affair, if one person were to log on to his or her email account from a new IP address, he said.
"It can show where someone spent the night," EFF's Schoen said. "The privacy concerns here can be much graver than you would think."
For those reasons and others, some privacy groups, like the Electronic Privacy Information Center, have questioned the legality of the NSA's Verizon data-collection scheme.