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NSA stores 80% of Americans’ phone conversations, claims NSA whistleblower Binney

Jul 13, 20145 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Privacy watchdogs warn that the CISA could will blow another hole in Americans' Fourth Amendment protections.

The NSA collects and stores most Americans’ phone conversations, according to NSA whistleblower William Binney.

At Timetable 2014, a Center for Investigative Journalism conference, Binney said, “At least 80% of fiber optic cables globally go via the U.S. This is no accident and allows the U.S. to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the U.S. The NSA lies about what it stores.”

Also according to The Guardian, Binney stated, “The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control, 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.”

Binney’s claim of the NSA recording and storing calls falls in line with what former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente told CNN after the Boston marathon bombings last year. Clemente claimed that in the course of a national security investigation, law enforcement could find out what was said in phone conversations between Katherine Russell and Tamarlan Tsarnaev. When CNN asked if FBI could “actually get that,” Clemente responded, “Welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”

When asked about it the next day, if Clemente had meant voice mail audio recordings to determine if Tsarnaev’s widow knew about the bombing, Clemente clarified:

I’m talking about all digital communications are — there’s a way to look at digital communications in the past. I can’t go into detail of how that’s done or what’s done. But I can tell you that no digital communication is secure. So these communications will be found out. The conversation will be known.

The NSA wants “total information control” over American citizens “in breach of the U.S. Constitution,” Binney testified before the German parliament this month. The NSA represents “the ‘greatest threat’ to American society since the US Civil War of the 19th century.”

How many times do we need to hear this to believe it? Over a year ago, there was more than enough leaked information to apply the Rule of Seven to domestic surveillance. Snowden’s leaks may have put NSA spying in the headlines and gained mainstream media attention, but Binney has been sounding the alarm for years.

Binney came forward in 2012 at the last Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) conference to say the NSA has dossiers on nearly every U.S. citizen. Later that year, Binney claimed everyone in the U.S. is under virtual surveillance. “Where I see it going is toward a totalitarian state,” Binney previously told Reason. “You’ve got the NSA doing all this collecting of material on all of its citizens – that’s what the SS, the Gestapo, the Stasi, the KGB, and the NKVD did.”

For a while it seemed as if President Obama’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board would help tip the scales and bring about changes to end unconstitutional NSA spying, seeing how PCLOB found “no instance” in which the telephone records collected by the NSA under its Section 215 program “directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.” But, disappointingly, PCLOB did an about-face in its latest report (pdf), claiming the NSA’s spying, via its bulk collection of Internet data, is constitutional.

In fact, there seems to be a push to make sure such spying on innocent Americans is constitutional.


On Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved CISPA’s successor CISA, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014. Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall oppose the bill and issued this warning: “We have seen how the federal government has exploited loopholes to collect Americans’ private information in the name of security. The only way to make cybersecurity information-sharing effective and acceptable is to ensure that there are strong protections for Americans’ constitutional privacy rights.” They added, “We are concerned that the bill the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported today lacks adequate protections for the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans, and that it will not materially improve cybersecurity.”

“Users’ communications information will continue to flow to the NSA under a cybersecurity umbrella even when it is irrelevant to a cyber threat. This is unacceptable,” Greg Nojeim, a lawyer with the Center for Democracy and Technology, told Motherboard.

CISA, according to the ACLU, “would create a massive loophole in our existing privacy laws by allowing the government to ask companies for ‘voluntary’ cooperation in sharing information, including the content of our communications, for cybersecurity purposes. But the definition they are using for the so-called ‘cybersecurity information’ is so broad it could sweep up huge amounts of innocent Americans’ personal data.”

The Fourth Amendment protects Americans’ personal data and communications from undue government access and monitoring without suspicion of criminal activity. The point of a warrant is to guard that protection. CISA would circumvent the warrant requirement by allowing the government to approach companies directly to collect personal information, including telephonic or internet communications, based on the new broadly drawn definition of “cybersecurity information.”

It remains to be seen if “real” changes to better protect Americans’ electronic privacy will come about this year, or if 2014 will continue the march toward America being a police state and her citizens protected by a constitution that is increasingly being sidestepped for “security.”

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.