How Much Would It Cost To Store All US Phone Calls Made In A Year?

from the cheaper-than-you-think dept

An early criticism of Snowden's leak about NSA spying activity was that the $20 million annual cost for PRISM -- whatever that turns out to be -- was simply too low to be credible. One person who knows more about storage costs than practically anyone -- well, outside the NSA, at least -- is Brewster Kahle, who set up the Internet Archive, essentially a backup for the entire Web plus a wonderfully rich store of many other materials. He's carried out a fascinating back-of-the envelope calculation of how much it would cost annually to record every phone call made in the US and store it in the cloud:

These estimates show only $27M in capital cost, and $2M in electricity and take less than 5,000 square feet of space to store and process all US phonecalls made in a year. The NSA seems to be spending $1.7 billion on a 100k square foot datacenter that could easily handle this and much much more. Therefore, money and technology would not hold back such a project -- it would be held back if someone did not have the opportunity or will.
Kahle has made the calculation available as a shared document (on Google, appropriately enough), so you can inspect his assumptions there and play around with the numbers. It's also worth reading through the comments to his short post, since they make some interesting points. However, even if the numbers are off by a factor or two, there's no doubt about the feasibility of recording all US phone calls.

And that's for sound files, which take up quite a lot of space. Text-based information pulled in from emails, Web pages and chat logs could be stored more compactly. That would make the routine recording of vast swathes of what those in the US -- and outside it -- do online not just plausible, but so cheap in comparison to the NSA's presumably large budget, that the latter might feel it would be crazy not to do so as a matter of course.

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  1. icon
    Jon Renaut (profile), 21 Jun 2013 @ 7:05pm

    This is government, remember

    There are a ton of hidden costs that most people won't see. The NSA may be different, but a certain government agency that I happen to work for has some ridiculous IT security policies that prevent anyone from using any technology that might be considered modern, efficient, or useful.

    The difference between "the cost to store and manage the data" and "the cost for a dozen Oracle licenses because we're inherently terrified of open source" is many millions of dollars.

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