Reviewing the surveillance state

DEEP in the desert in Utah, the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s signals intelligence branch, has built a $1.5 billion centre to scoop up and analyse data from the internet. The building includes its own water-treatment facility, electric substation and 60 back-up diesel generators. It will use over a million gallons of water a day. Its data-storage capacity would be enough, according to one estimate, to store a year of footage of round-the-clock video-recording of over a million people. At this centre, communications from across the globe are tapped directly from the fibre-optic backbone of the internet.


And yet even as these data are gathered, America’s politicians are fretfully discussing how much of the pile government snoops can look at, and under what circumstances. Two years after Edward Snowden, a contractor for the NSA, revealed the extent of it, the technical capacity of America’s surveillance state has never been more dramatic. Its legal capacity, however, is becoming markedly more restricted. In Congress and in the courts, the right of the government to collect the data of Americans is being challenged. Politically, the consensus that this level of surveillance (at least of American citizens) is necessary appears to be breaking down.


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