Monday, June 10, 2013

Welcome to my new neighbor, the NSA Datafarm

The National Security Agency is set to open its new datafarm at Camp Williams in Bluffdale, Utah, in October of this year. It’s a hugely expensive project, and yet it has gone largely unnoticed by Americans, even Utahns. That doesn’t mean it’s been hidden. It’s just that I hadn’t heard any alarm bells go off from the public until the recent news broke about the NSA keeping phone records of Americans.

Artist’s conception of the finished building.

In its official website, the NSA links to articles like “The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center,” which leaves no doubt that the purpose of the complex is to house information used in high-tech spying. The NSA calls it “the Utah Data Center, code-named Bumblehive.” Bumblehive! That’s a joke on the Utah state motto, “The Beehive State,” and someone with a sense of humor came up with that one. They further describe the data center as “designed to support the Intelligence Community’s efforts to monitor, strengthen and protect the nation.”

Here’s where it gets interesting (and scary): “The steady use of available computer power and the development of novel computer platforms will enable us to easily turn the huge volume of incoming data into an asset to be exploited, for the good of the nation. (Emphasis mine.) I’m drawn to key words like “novel computer platforms,” “huge volume of incoming data,” and especially “asset to be exploited.”

I’m not a numbers person, so “huge” in terms of incoming data doesn’t really compute in my brain, and adding to my confusion are the terms they throw around for capacity of data storage, using words I’m sure someone sat up nights coining: “The storage capacity . . . will be measured in ‘zettabytes”. What exactly is a zettabyte? There are a thousand gigabytes in a terabyte; a thousand terabytes in a petabyte; a thousand petabytes in an exabyte; and a thousand exabytes in a zettabyte.”

Oh, well, now that they’ve explained it that way…

That same sense of humor pops up again in the last sentence of the paragraph: “Some of our employees like to refer to them as ‘alottabytes”. The employees could refer to them as breakfast biscuits and it would make as much sense, but then, that’s just me. “There are a thousand breakfast biscuits in a terabiscuit…”

Edward Snowden, the man who blew the whistle on an operation called PRISM, which is collecting information on Internet use, and comes on the heels of the news of cell phone info gathering, is now in deep. Snowden is in Hong Kong right now. He admits he did it, is proud to be the guy who blew the whistle, and expects reprisals. If he was hoping to escape extradition he might have chosen a place other than Hong Kong, which has an extradition treaty with the U.S. It has exceptions for someone being charged for a “political reason.” We’ll have to see whether they consider dishing American secret spy operations as being political or not, and hand him over.

“Bad boy, bad boy, what ya gonna do…what you gonna do when they come for you?”

Since the NSA is building its Bumblehive so close to my home (it’s not computed in miles, but time, so my route map says it would take twenty minutes to drive), maybe I’ll apply for a job! As Snowden explained, anyone can access any information (that’s disputed, but he claims it’s so). By working there I could look up all of my enemies or old girlfriends, see what Internet sites they access. If I wasn’t keyboarding right now I’d be rubbing my hands with glee just thinking of it. But then, someone might want to do the same to me. Bummer. I don’t want that. So, NSA Human Resources, on second thought never mind. Tear up my application.

The main thing that comes out of these revelations of cell phone info and Internet info gathering is the further erosion of the holy American “right” to privacy. All the new technology is just so tempting for spies to access and use for whatever purposes they envision. As with a lot of other things about Internet and cell phone technology, many rules and laws have yet to be written. The damn gadgets and things are showing up so fast we haven’t figured out a precedent for how to handle the “alottabytes” of stuff out there floating through the ether, ready to be picked up by whomever, for whatever purpose.

Who watches the Watchmen?

Copyright © 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune

No comments: