DEA Gets Lawsuit Dismissed Because It Couldn't Cope With Two Terabytes Of Evidence

from the the-cost-of-storage-these-days dept

Catching up on some older stories, Aaron DeOliveira points us to the bizarre news that the DEA sought (and got) dismissal of a case against someone involved in a online pharmacy prescription drug scam (basically prescribing the drugs without ever seeing the patients) because the DEA was sick of storing all of the evidence, both electronic and paper. How much evidence?
More than 400,000 documents and two terabytes of electronic data that federal authorities say is expensive to maintain....

[....] "Continued storage of these materials is difficult and expensive," wrote Stephanie Rose, the U.S. attorney for northern Iowa. She called the task "an economic and practical hardship" for the Drug Enforcement Administration....

[....] The evidence took up 5 percent of the DEA's worldwide electronic storage. Agents had also kept several hundred boxes of paper containing 440,000 documents, plus dozens of computers, servers and other bulky items.

Two terabytes is enough to store the text of 2 million novels, or roughly 625,000 copies of "War and Peace."
None of this makes much sense. You can pick up a two-terabyte drive for a little over $100 (I was just looking to pick up a couple for a backup system). The fact that it can store 2 million novels is meaningless. The idea that it's expensive to store that much seems silly -- as does the claim that 2 terabytes represents 5% of the DEA's "worldwide electronic storage." I recognize that government procurement is a ridiculous process, but if there's any truth to this, then the DEA is even more dysfunctional than originally believed.

As Scott Greenfield noted in the link above:
The revelations from this motion, if true, are amazing and appalling. Given the scope of electronic data involves in investigations, the claim that two terabytes constitutes five percent of the DEA's storage capacity is laughable. It suggests that they're screwing with us, and have no ability to do 90% of the things they claim or we fear they're up to.

Indeed, while we worry about their creating mirror images of hard drives of thousands of computers, or obtaining digital evidence from hundreds of thousands of cellphones, this isn't conceivably possible if the total storage capacity of the DEA is 40 terabytes. It just can't be.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Mesonoxian Eve (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 5:56am

    Makes you wonder how much the DoJ is spending storing Megaupload's data.

    Though, I doubt we'll hear any complaints from them.

     

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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 6:08am

    Huh?

    She called the task "an economic and practical hardship" for the Drug Enforcement Administration


    Not sure what to make of that lie except to think that they just got bored with the case. Maybe it is just not as sexy or fun as sending guns to Mexico.

     

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    Lord Binky, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:25am

    "As of January 2012, the Library has collected about 285 terabytes of web archive data (one terabyte = 1,024 gigabytes). The web archives grow at a rate of about 5 terabytes per month."

    Apparently the Library of Congress is far more capable than the DEA.

     

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      el_segfaulto (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:25am

      Re:

      I have a 12TB NAS at home in a RAID5. The entire setup was under $700. Who is in charge at the DEA?!

       

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        aethercowboy (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:56am

        Re: Re:

        The federal government?

         

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        Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 11:17am

        Re: Re:

        Between my various drives I've probably got (wets a finger and holds it up to test the breeze) on the order of 10 terabytes of storage at home. And I don't have much cash to spare for gadgets (I'm still using a G1, fer crissakes).

        If the DEA can't cough up for 4 times that... honestly, I can't think of anything. The cognitive dissonance has exceeded the capacity of my brain's paradox-absorbing crumple zones.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:26pm

        Re: Re:

        Why don't you donate it to them, add a few terabytes and we'll practically double their capabilities.

         

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      saulgoode (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:09am

      Re:

      "The Internet Archive Wayback Machine contains almost 2 petabytes of data and is currently growing at a rate of 20 terabytes per month. This eclipses the amount of text contained in the world's largest libraries, including the Library of Congress."

      "The Internet Archive contains about 5.8 petabytes of data as of December 2010. It was growing at the rate of about 100 terabytes per month in March 2009."

       

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        pixelpusher220 (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:13am

        Re: Re:

        with the caveat that the Wayback Machine doesn't have to provide chain of custody and other such legal necessities.

        Doesn't mean it isn't doable but the jobs are different...

         

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    Edward Teach, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:31am

    OJ's lawyers were right!

    Avasty, ye freshwater swabs! Isn't this more proof that OJ Simpson's team of lawyers were correct? If thou spew enough BS, Blather, Balloon Juice, hot air, blarney or hogwash, eventually nothing happens and charrrges get dismissed. It worked for John and Patsy Ramsey, it worked for OJ, and it worked for yonder Drug Kingpin! In this sense the punative "justice" of the 18th Century British Empire was far better. Everything is a trade-off, mates!

     

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    John Doe, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:31am

    That is great news...

    ...for drug dealers.

     

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    Secret Admirer (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:32am

    We should applaud the DEA for the money they are saving the tax payers. They are after all a part of the same government that once spent $436 on a hammer and $640 on a toilet seat.

    A two-terabyte drive might cost private consumers a little over $100 but by my calculations it would cost the tax payers roughly $3.8 billion.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 11:30am

      Re:

      You do know the story behind those items correct?

      no, let me educate you.
      The hammer was going to be used around loaded oxygen tanks, and sparking was not an option, so it had to be a custom hammer that no one made.

      The toilet seat works in space.

      Also government property regulations require the inclusion of the total cost, including the time of the purchasing agent, receiving, et cetera. It's really not that hard to get to those numbers when you consider those factors.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:35am

    not too much of a hardship to store 'evidence' against 'file sharers' though is it, especially the ones that fight back (Kim Dotcom springs to mind)! perhaps the type of industry concerned is what makes the difference?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:38am

    is there any government or law enforcement body that isn't dysfunctional? they all seem to rely on being told which road(s) to go down by private corporations or individuals!

     

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    Anonymous, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:46am

    Haven't you seen Breaking Bad?
    If this show has taught us anything, it's that the DEA is utterly incompetent.
    Walt and crew are as irresponsible and careless as drug kingpins could be, and the DEA don't even a clue.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:47am

    So in reality the DEA has no case and they are just lying to get it over with.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:49am

    Not that I'm defending the DEA (I'M NOT DEFENDING THE DEA!!!), but to compare commercial data storage to consumer data storage is disingenuous. They need to deal with RAIDs, backups, off site data centers, etc. Yes, its stupid to think that two TB would be 5% of their storage. That's patently impossible, so either incompetence or outright lying. But, saying they can spend $200 to store the data makes my IT head explode.

     

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      Lord Binky, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:55am

      Re:

      Ok so a 2x2TB NAS in raid 1 is $400. Hopefully that would last the length of the trial, just have the lawyers not work for a couple hours and it pays for itself!

       

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      ComputerAddict (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:04am

      Re:

      " but to compare commercial data storage to consumer data storage is disingenuous."

      Your right, they probably get a GSA discount!

      You dont need a RAID array to store 2TB, you may want the RAID array for backup / redundant purposes (see Lord Blinky's post above), Also "Off Site Data Centers" would seem to pose chain of custody problems with the evidence. I don't remember police being able to trust random 3rd parties with evidence.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:57am

        Re: Re:

        They do probably get a discount. RAID is for redundancy in case of hard drive failure, so you can just hotswap them and not have to go through tape every time you have a hard drive failure (this happens a lot).

        Off Site Datacenters are for things like power failures, hardware outages, or disaster protection from things like fires or floods. If you lose your server room, do you lose all your evidence? The alternative is an off site tape storage center, but in the end, its the same thing only slower.

        You really do need these things.

         

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      The Groove Tiger (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:28am

      Re:

      Obviously, when the heads at the DEA were told that they needed a RAID to store all that data, they decided RAIDs are too much work, with all the breaking and entering, rapelling down ropes, smashing of windows, tear gas and stuff, and decided not to bother.

       

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      John Fenderson (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:36am

      Re:

      But, saying they can spend $200 to store the data makes my IT head explode.


      But, if the alternative is to dismiss the case entirely, surely it would be reasonable to expect them to spend $200 (OK, let's call it $1,000 once you factor in overhead & labor) on a readily available consumer rig as an emergency temporary measure instead.

       

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      Cliff Wells, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 1:14pm

      Re:

      Anyone who's priced say, 2TB of storage on a NetApp has tears in their eyes at that whole line of reasoning.

       

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    Christopher (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:56am

    Chain of custody

    How do you prove that evidence was not mishandled if the two terabyte HDD is sitting unsecured on someone's desk?

    Think this through a little before making it an economic argument. The economics is a cost of preserving a chain of custody and a level of auditing.

    -C

     

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      Sneeje (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:59am

      Re: Chain of custody

      See my post below--this is very true.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:04am

      Re: Chain of custody

      This.

      It doesn't take only 2 TB of storage to preserve the info. B/c it's critical evidence for an investigation, it needs to be backed up (probably multiple times), and chain of custody maintained, and other administrative hurdles that normal data storage isn't concerned with.

      The physical storage costs of 400k documents is also high.

      It's even worse when you consider the suspect has left the country and knows he's under investigation. You're not likely to ever be able to prosecute him, so why bother? Why spend the money for an investigation/case that is basically dead?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:50am

        Re: Re: Chain of custody

        Or you make a copy that is put in to a third party's hands to be held securely. If there is a question you have the third or fourth party verify that both drives are the same.

         

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      John Fenderson (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:37am

      Re: Chain of custody

      How do you prove that evidence was not mishandled if the two terabyte HDD is sitting unsecured on someone's desk?


      Simple: you don't leave it sitting unsecured on someone's desk. You lock the drives up in the evidence locker with the rest of the physical evidence.

       

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      Berenerd (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:42am

      Re: Chain of custody

      Actually..you can easily attach them to a server in a locked server room but lets go with "lets buy a datacenter" I can buy 2 server racks full of HP blade servers with well over 300 terbytes in storage for under $100k. Thats a bunch of servers, if all you want is storage, you go with a NAS and spend under $10k for 400+ Terabytes. Now if for some reason you are foolish enough to buy into the IBM data centers, THAT will cost you and knowing the government that is most likely what they did.

       

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    Kingster (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:56am

    LOL. My NAS here at the house has 9TB of storage (4x3TB in RAID5). That's almost 25% of the DEA's storage.

     

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    BeaverJuicer (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:57am

    So the secret to being an untouchable drug dealer, is to store all your records electronically, and make sure your DB has over 5TB of redundant data... Got it.

     

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    Sneeje (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:58am

    It has much to do with how they store it

    I have some experience in this area. I suspect it isn't a matter of storing the information on a multi-terabyte drive bought over the counter. If they are storing the information so that it can be *investigated* and analyzed, they are storing the information in multiple hosted virtual and secure enclaves with connected electronic forensic tools.

    Still not necessarily into serious money, assuming they had the capacity to begin with. Now, one other consideration would be if they had the forensic tool and storage capacity at all, and there are third-parties that have forensic capabilities that can be made available via outsourcing, which is paid for by the seat, and sometimes even by the minute of use.

    So I can't go into tremendous detail but the technologies necessary to make large amounts of stored information available for forensic analysis is not easily scaled and usually expensive given the laws, policies, and procedures involved.

    Remember too that they also have to make the information/tools available to the defense as well.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:39am

      Re: It has much to do with how they store it

      But they weren't complaining about the lack of forensic ability. They're talking about storage costs. Surely, rather than dismiss the case, they could put the data onto some hard drives in storage.

       

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        Sneeje (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 11:49am

        Re: Re: It has much to do with how they store it

        True, I am sort of assuming they want the information accessible for analysis.

        Even then, there is still significant overhead to meet forensic standards, but it would not be orders of magnitude greater.

         

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      Lord Binky, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:01am

      Re: It has much to do with how they store it

      Whenever you think 'WTF why would you use this software? Halfway finished opensource is better than this. And it's the only one allowed?' Don't bother asking why, since it usually involves a decision maker's brother offering the "perfect" solution to the problem and it would be surprising if it even went out for bid instead of an "off the shelf" solution.

       

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    rip tip, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:01am

    Legacy systems at DEA

    Some DEA systems could be legacy (think mainframes)- so off the shelf solutions for storage will not work. The problem is that government does not have money to upgrade their IT systems to even reasonable modern standards. Also security of that data is critical. Although you can buy a harddrive for $200 somewhere, you have to provide security for that drive so there is not another data loss situation like the loss of VA laptops about 6 years ago. Additionally, there is probably programming on legacy systems involved which might cost millions instead of the hundreds that most people would assume. Effecciency and government should never be assumed to go together....

     

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    Michael Long (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:20am

    "Indeed, while we worry about their creating mirror images of hard drives of thousands of computers, or obtaining digital evidence from hundreds of thousands of cellphones..."

    And yet the NSA is spending billions on a data collection and storage center in Utah.

    Perhaps the DEA should outsource?

     

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:24am

    Ask Google

    Since there are about 10,000 DEA employees, they could all get gmail accounts which store 10GB of data.

    So that's 100TB of space for free. Well sorta, Google is willing to foot the bill.

    Oh and they could all get hotmail accounts too, for another 100TB or so of storage.

     

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      Sneeje (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:28am

      Re: Ask Google

      I realize you're joking, but that storage and the management of that storage would have to be certified against forensics standards, which they have not been.

       

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        Wally (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:15am

        Re: Re: Ask Google

        No hard feelings Sneeje, I just want to clarify with you on what I comprehended from your comment.

        "I realize you're joking, but that storage and the management of that storage would have to be certified against forensics standards, which they have not been."

        How I think you could have put it if you didn't mean data:
        **I realize you're joking, but that storage, and the management/maintenance thereof, would have to be certified against forensics standards, which they have not been.**

        How I think you may have meant but not sure:
        **I realize you're joking, but the storage and management of the data would have to be certified against forensics standards, which they have not been.**

         

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          Sneeje (profile), Aug 29th, 2012 @ 11:47am

          Re: Re: Re: Ask Google

          No hard feelings taken. I was imprecise at best. I believe that both statements are true--how the storage is managed has forensic standards and how the data itself is managed also has forensic standards. Plus, how either is accessed is subject to standards.

           

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        Josef Anvil (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:20am

        Re: Re: Ask Google

        It's not entirely a joke. I was highlighting how silly they sound when they say that it's too expensive to store 2TB of data.

        ICE gets millions to enforce IP laws, so why is the DEA having problems storing a few TB of evidence. Personally I would rather the DEA get more funding for data storage than ICE for IP enforcement.

        Maybe the DEA should ask the NSA for some extra storage space.

         

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        Josef Anvil (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:20am

        Re: Re: Ask Google

        It's not entirely a joke. I was highlighting how silly they sound when they say that it's too expensive to store 2TB of data.

        ICE gets millions to enforce IP laws, so why is the DEA having problems storing a few TB of evidence. Personally I would rather the DEA get more funding for data storage than ICE for IP enforcement.

        Maybe the DEA should ask the NSA for some extra storage space.

         

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    GMacGuffin (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:24am

    Bottom line...

    Deferring to the IT-Folks' comments re legacy, redundancy and chain of evidence, let's get back to the crux:

    They apparently told the Court, under oath, that 40TB was their maximum worldwide storage capacity. That represents either a massive lie, or unmitigated incompetence, or both.

    (Or, perhaps the 40TB just represents what's left when not accounting all the downloaded porn on DEA servers.)

     

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      Wally (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:39am

      Re: Bottom line...

      "(Or, perhaps the 40TB just represents what's left when not accounting all the downloaded porn on DEA servers.)"

      Harsh, but it got my funny vote ^_^

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:43am

      Re: Bottom line...

      Well they used to have more then Mega got taken down.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 10:02am

      Re: Bottom line...

      It could also be that the capacity of this branch/subdivision is 40 TB, not the entire DEA.

      In which case, it's a perfectly valid statement and an unsurprising one.

       

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    Jesse (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 8:45am

    Considering how laughable the war on drugs is, I have to say, this is a step in the right direction.

     

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    Wally (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:01am

    Questions and more

    I am from the US and I hate to say the following as it comes off as extremely political:

    My governemnet spends US$800 Billion in an "economic stimulus" package to bail out banks and failing companies who just spent said money on more CEO bonuses (General Motors being the exception), and yet we cannot even remotely spend that same amount appropriating those funds towards any of our normal agencies that actually have a job to do?

    I don't think the DEA is entirely to blame here....

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:49am

    At least not everything was dismissed

    "The dismissal of the charges does not mean Angulo is free to return to the U.S. He is still listed as one of Florida's most wanted criminals and is being sought for separate Medicaid fraud and narcotics charges in that state."

    Given this, I'll forgive them for dropping the charges in one particular case. Why even bother spending the extra $100 to hold the evidence if you have better things to go after him for if he ever DOES return to the US?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 10:04am

      Re: At least not everything was dismissed

      Exactly, it was costing money and effort and they've determined that the suspect isn't in the US and isn't likely to ever return, as he knows about the charges/investigations against him.

      So what are they going to do? Pay for and sit on a ton of evidence that will never be used?

       

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    crashsuit (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:53am

    Dear DEA: For a modest fee, I can find you extremely favorable rates on doubling or even trebling your 40TB of storage.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 9:56am

    The DEA had a lot more storage till the DOJ shut down Megaupload.

     

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    rangda (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 10:24am

    Ummmm...hello??? This is the federal government we're talking about. Do you REALIZE how many 8" floppies you need to store 2TB of data?????

     

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    You People Are Stupid, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 11:42am

    The Cost IS Prohibative

    My company charges $300 per GB to process the data and $35 per month to store it. So two TB of data is 2000GB X $300 = $600,000. Let's say after duplicates and the removal of system files and such that there is half left over. So thats 1 TB or 1000GB X 35 = $35000 per month in storage. So if the case were to last five months, the total cost would be $600,000 + $175,000 = $775,000.

    I guess that amount does make the case not worth going all the way.

    Makes sense to me.

    Its funny how people not in the know, can take things way out of context.

     

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    Vidiot (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 11:53am

    They already have 2TB, I bet

    Here's an idea: We've all heard about the Fabulous DEA Impound Lot, full of Porsches and Maseratis... just open the trunks and glove boxes, and look for shopping bags from Best Buy... gotta be a couple of petabytes' worth.

     

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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 1:17pm

    I think I'll apply Occam's Razor here

    Which is more likely:

    A) A large, supposedly very heavily funded* government agency has drastically less storage capacity than even a moderately tech savvy civilian.

    OR

    B) After looking through what evidence they had, they realized that they didn't actually have enough to go after the people/persons in question, and just dropped the case, citing technical reason instead of lack of evidence so they didn't look stupid.

    And a small side possibility:

    B1) They looked at the evidence they had, saw they didn't have enough to make a case, then looked at the laws currently in place and realized it didn't matter, and dropped the case to try and trick the person/people into range where they could nab them anyway.

    *Actually, thinking about it, their budget could indeed have been brutalized that much, as these days going after actual criminals seems to be prioritized much less than going after those committing imaginary property crimes.

     

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    orbitalinsertion (profile), Aug 28th, 2012 @ 6:51pm

    They should lease storage from the NSA.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2012 @ 7:24pm

    DEA rep, after being reincarnated in the future,

    Lets just say that (presses broadcast button)

    "The case will require" (puts pinky on mouth) "TWO TERABYTES!!!!!"

    Response: "HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!! Even your average Joe Blow these days has much more than that."

    Rep: "TWO BILLION TERRABYTES!!!!!"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2012 @ 7:59pm

    I CALL BULLSHIT!

    the thought that the DEA is hurting by storing 2 TB of data is bullshit. they are the 3rd largest budgeted "law" enforcement agency in the US (thanks to Mr. Regan). the reason it was dropped was way more nefarious. they are happy for you to all think of them as technological buffoons instead of knowing the truth. either the plaintiff was innocent & they could not find any evidence OR that the evidence was obtained illegally and the D.A. told them to dump the shit storm before they embarrassed themselves further.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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