A high level whistleblower has revealed that the NSA is recording and storing “80 percent of all audio calls, not just metadata.”
“The NSA lies about what it stores,” said William Binney, who left the NSA. Binney said that he thinks the NSA’s efforts are less about terrorism and more about mass surveillance.
“The NSA is mass-collecting on everyone,” Binney said, “and it’s said to be about terrorism but inside the US it has stopped zero attacks.” Binney estimates that the government will soon be able to store 966 exabytes of data every year, or all global internet activity.
Edward Snowden recently revealed that the NSA is also using social media to collect millions of photos of Americans for facial recognition programs. Binney said that he fears that these programs are being abused and that “15 to 20 trillion constitutional violations” have already occurred.
“They need to have a process that does limit what NSA looks at and can take in and store at its databases, so that other law enforcement agencies in the government can’t take advantage of it and use it illegally, unconstitutionally,” said Binney.
President Obama has maintained that the NSA’s programs are essential to fighting terrorism.
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Binney, who featured in a 2012 short film by Oscar-nominated US film-maker Laura Poitras, described a future where surveillance is ubiquitous and government intrusion unlimited.
“The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control”, Binney said, “but I’m a little optimistic with some recent Supreme Court decisions, such as law enforcement mostly now needing a warrant before searching a smartphone.”
He praised the revelations and bravery of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and told me that he had indirect contact with a number of other NSA employees who felt disgusted with the agency’s work. They’re keen to speak out but fear retribution and exile, not unlike Snowden himself, who is likely to remain there for some time.
Unlike Snowden, Binney didn’t take any documents with him when he left the NSA. He now says that hard evidence of illegal spying would have been invaluable. The latest Snowden leaks, featured in the Washington Post, detail private conversations of average Americans with no connection to extremism.
It shows that the NSA is not just pursuing terrorism, as it claims, but ordinary citizens going about their daily communications. “The NSA is mass-collecting on everyone”, Binney said, “and it’s said to be about terrorism but inside the US it has stopped zero attacks.”
The lack of official oversight is one of Binney’s key concerns, particularly of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa), which is held out by NSA defenders as a sign of the surveillance scheme’s constitutionality.
“The Fisa court has only the government’s point of view”, he argued. “There are no other views for the judges to consider. There have been at least 15-20 trillion constitutional violations for US domestic audiences and you can double that globally.”
A Fisa court in 2010 allowed the NSA to spy on 193 countries around the world, plus the World Bank, though there’s evidence that even the nations the US isn’t supposed to monitor – Five Eyes allies Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – aren’t immune from being spied on. It’s why encryption is today so essential to transmit information safely.
Binney recently told the German NSA inquiry committee that his former employer had a “totalitarian mentality” that was the “greatest threat” to US society since that country’s US Civil War in the 19th century. Despite this remarkable power, Binney still mocked the NSA’s failures, including missing this year’s Russian intervention in Ukraine and the Islamic State’s take-over of Iraq.
The era of mass surveillance has gone from the fringes of public debate to the mainstream, where it belongs. The Pew Research Centre released a report this month, Digital Life in 2025, that predictedworsening state control and censorship, reduced public trust, and increased commercialisation of every aspect of web culture.
It’s not just internet experts warning about the internet’s colonisation by state and corporate power. One of Europe’s leading web creators, Lena Thiele, presented her stunning series Netwars in London on the threat of cyber warfare. She showed how easy it is for governments and corporations to capture our personal information without us even realising.