The scale and scope of the National Security Agency's data collection operations certainly come as a shock when you see them presented as bluntly as they have been in recent days. So does the equally blunt attitude shown by US intelligence officials when they explain why they seemingly collected the telephone records of every single American. "Well, you have to start someplace," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reportedly told NBC News on Monday.

But what the NSA has been doing is, in a way, an extension of what it and its predecessor, the Armed Forces Security Agency, have been doing since the latter was founded in 1949 -- and Australia has been an integral part of that the entire time through our Defence Signals Directorate.