The New Age of Surveillance

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
The New Age of Surveillance

While some Americans have claimed U.S. government surveillance of Americans is innocuous, others have equated it with the infamous East German Stasi. Actually, it’s worse.

In an interview in June with a German television station, German President Joachim Gauck said the surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) was not comparable to that conducted by the Stasi — the infamous East German Ministry for State Security — because “it is not like it was with the Stasi and the KGB — that there exist big filing cabinets in which all the content of our conversations are written down and nicely filed. This is not the case.”

Gauck is right. The NSA is nothing like the Stasi because the East German secret police relied on such things as typewriters, carbon copies, handwritten transcriptions of phone conversations, agents listening through doors and rudimentary bugging devices, and the aforementioned filing cabinets. The NSA, on the other hand, can apparently monitor electronically — in real time — every word of every phone call, every text message, every social media post, every website visited, and every form of electronic communication.

How much data is being collected by the NSA? William Binney, a former NSA technical director turned whistleblower, estimates that the newly completed NSA Utah Data Center “will be able to handle and process five zettabytes of data.” In a story quoting Binney’s claim, National Public Radio reports that a zettabyte is equal to “the amount of data that would fill 250 billion DVDs.”

Back to those bulging Stasi filing cabinets. Imagine that a typical filing cabinet with 60 files of 30 pages per file takes up about 4.3 square feet of space. Each 30-page file would equal roughly 120 MB of data. Given the amount of storage available to the NSA in its Utah location, if all the data stored there were printed and stored in traditional filing cabinets, those cabinets would occupy nearly 6.6 million square miles!

Nothing like the Stasi, indeed.

Secret Police Minus the Police Powers

Is there any clearer lens through which to view the future than the past? Is not the United States of 2013 eerily and tragically traveling along a similar trajectory to that followed by the formerly free Germans and the communist Stasi that ultimately deprived them of their liberties?

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