Data Storage Could Expand Reach of Surveillance
John Villasenor, an electrical engineer at the University of California, Los Angeles, studied the plummeting cost of computer data storage and reached an astonishing conclusion: It will soon be technically feasible and affordable to record and store everything that can be recorded about what everyone in a country says or does.
And there is plenty of data to store. The average person today leaves an electronic trail unimaginable 20 years ago — visiting Web sites, sending e-mails and text messages, using credit cards, passing before a proliferating network of public and private video cameras and carrying a cellphone that reports a person’s location every minute of the day.
Mr. Villasenor, also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, estimates that to store the audio from telephone calls made by an average person in the course of a year would require about 3.3 gigabytes and cost just 17 cents to store, a price that is expected to fall to 2 cents by 2015. Tracking a person’s movements for a year, collected from their cellphone, would take so little space as to carry a trivial cost. Storing video takes far more space, but the price is dropping so steadily that storing millions of hours of material will not be a problem soon.
“It’s so cheap that you can afford to throw away 99.9 percent without looking at it,” says Mr. Villasenor, who explores the possibilities in a Brookings paper, “Recording Everything: Digital Storage as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments.”
And a government sleuth would, of course, be able to efficiently find anything of interest in the data because of the parallel revolution in search technology.
Just because we can capture and store lots of data does not mean we should.
Given the propensity of absolute power to corrupt, we should at the very least limit how much information we allow government to store and capture from the people.
In Virginia, we already capture check engine indicators from vehicle onboard computers upon vehicle emissions inspections.
The 2010 federal health care law is set to dramatically increase how much information the government has on us.
These are not good trends.
And the question is not, "With what would you replace it?" Government surveillance does not need a replacement. We don't need government surveillance.
Freedom is the replacement for government control.