Downside to cameras everywhere and the near-zero cost to record data

We are being recorded and logged and photographed everywhere we go. We need to be aware.

I’m not sure we have all caught on to the extent that we are tracked.  Andy Kessler ponders where we are in his Wall Street Journal article, In the Privacy Wares, It’s iSpy vs. gSpy – Big Brother is watching us. But we are watching back.

Boundaries of monitoring

He reminds us there is a log and probably a photo from every time you interact with a toll booth, cell tower, ATM, or commercial security cameras, of which there may be as many as 30M around the country. 

As cheap as storage is, those records will be retained for years, if not decades.

Ponder the new boundaries of the monitoring:

He can tell us the number of red-light cameras in operation around the country because a company provides crowd sourcing of the cameras’ locations which they in turn provide to GPS mapping services, so you can see them on the screen in your car.

Consider the law enforcement angles:

Already a third of large U.S. police forces equip patrol cars with automatic license plate-readers that can check 1,000 plates per hour looking for scofflaws. Better pay those parking tickets because this system sure beats a broken tail light as an excuse to pull you over.

Really big storage capacity

Consider the rumors of what the NSA is working on:

In Bluffdale, Utah, according to Wired magazine, the National Security Agency is building a $2 billion, one-million-square-foot facility with the capacity to consume $40 million of electricity a year, rivaling Google’s biggest data centers.

Some estimate the facility will be capable of storing five zettabytes of data. It goes tera, peta, exa, then zetta—so that’s like five billion terabyte drives, or more than enough to store every email, cellphone call, Google search and surveillance-camera video for a long time to come. Companies like Palantir Technologies (co-founded by early Facebook investor Peter Thiel) exist to help the government find terrorists and Wall Street firms find financial fraud.

I just did a really simple search at Amazon – found a 2 TB external hard drive for $123. Big NAS servers, like 8TB or 12 TB are about $100 a terabyte.  I’m guessing the NSA will get far better prices than those.  However, even at those prices, data storage is approaching the point of being zero cost.

Since I’m an accountant, I’ll break that down. That’s $100 for a terabyte of storage capacity, $0.10 for a gigabyte, and about one-hundredth of a penny for a megabyte ($0.0001).

It would cost under a tenth of a penny to store a backup of all my blogs. My e-mail file could be stored on under twenty cents of space on a terabyte drive.

So that comment about storing everyone’s emails, cell calls, and Google searchs forever is a very reasonable comment.

How data could be used or outed

The final point from Mr. Kessler is that data wants to be free.  Eventually data will leak.

Gen. Petraeus knows it. Politicians yapping about “clinging to guns” or “the 47%” know it. Information wants to be free and will be. Plan for it.

For those who don’t get that comment, Gen. Petraeus lost his job as director of the CIA over an extramarital affair discovered when the FBI pieced together sundry pieces of data.  The other two comments refer to embarrassing recorded comments from one political figure you like and one you don’t.

I’ve long realized that if you really, really, really tick off  the authorities, someone who is mad at you could subpoena the records of your travels on the Orange County toll roads.  In that system, if you travel a long way on the road, you would be charged at several of the toll booths. Calculate the exact distance between each toll booth, dump all the data (which would include the exact second you passed each sensor) into a spreadsheet, add some simple formulas, and someone could calculate the exact speed you travelled between two points each time you were on the road. Then simply send a dozen or hundred speeding tickets. Or print in the newspaper the number of times you were speeding in the last year.

That would take a small fraction of the effort that the FBI spent to out Gen. Petraeus and his paramour.

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