The NSA's collection of phone records and metadata is still a privacy violation, even though the agency says it's not connecting names to the data, said James Bamford, an author of five books on the NSA. "The [phone] number is the name," he said.
The danger of the mass collection of data by the NSA is that it "buries" analysts in data, said Binney, who developed a surveillance program called ThinThread intended to allow the NSA to look at data but not collect it. The NSA dumped that program in favor of more extensive data collection.
"The biggest problem was getting data to a manageable level," he said. "We didn't have enough people, we couldn't hire enough people east of the Mississippi to manage all the data we were getting. The idea of collecting too much data is as bad as not being able to collect enough."
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.