Yes, it is not a joke. It is hard to believe at first, yet it is an absolute truth. It became possible due to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), and that is why huge corporations and digital privacy advocates got the changing of this act as their top legislative priority. Federal judge Stephen Smith made his own research on this topic. According to his findings, in 2006 there were 30000 sealed surveillance orders, based on ECPA, across the country.
While not all of those electronic surveillance orders are unsealed (in fact, most of them are still unsealed), we can’t say that this is good. To the contrary, any electronic surveillance order is unsealed only in case when a person has committed a crime. If there were no crimes then this order remains sealed and surveillance is most likely continues. So thousands of innocent people don’t even suspect that they are watched every day, be it access to the e-mail, internet activity like social networks or browser history, cell phone tracking, eavesdropping, etc.
ECPA is so old legislative act that it allows mobile phone companies and internet service providers to spy on their customers without warrants, and do that absolutely legally when you start looking from their side. For example, if police needs to make a search in your house, they need to show you a warrant or otherwise it will be illegal infiltration of your house. But when it comes to digital surveillance, you will not even know about its implementation, so while you are not aware, there is no need in notifying you about it.
So while Congress may change this situation some day in the future, your privacy is already been compromised. And at least for the time ECPA is not changed (and maybe even for the time after it will be changed) you can protect yourself from secret electronic surveillance orders and don’t let ECPA become the cause of you being secretly spied every day.