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.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “DEA Gets Lawsuit Dismissed Because It Couldn't Cope With Two Terabytes Of Evidence”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Edward Teach says:

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!

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

ComputerAddict (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Chain of custody


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?

Sneeje (profile) says:

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.

rip tip says:

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….

GMacGuffin says:

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.)

Anonymous Coward says:


The DoJ took copies of the evidence it wanted (probably a few infringing files) and then told the server company to destroy the data. I don’t remember the details but the company never ended up destroying any afaik.

Still, that’s really disturbing behaviour on the part of DoJ.

Berenerd (profile) says:

Chain of custody 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.

Anonymous Coward says:


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.

Wally (profile) says:

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….

Lord Binky says:

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.

saulgoode (profile) says:


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.”

Wally (profile) says:

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.**

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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?

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:


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.

Anonymous Coward says:


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.

You People Are Stupid says:

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.

That One Guy (profile) says:

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.


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.

Anonymous Coward says:


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.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...