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NSA Data Center Brings Concerns Over Security and Privacy and Jobs 138

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-take-the-good-you-take-the-bad dept.
chamilto0516 writes "Twenty-five miles due south of Salt Lake City, a massive construction project is nearing completion. The heavily secured site belongs to the National Security Agency. The NSA says the Utah Data Center is a facility for the intelligence community that will have a major focus on cyber security. Some published reports suggest it could hold 5 zettabytes of data. Asked if the Utah Data Center would hold the data of American citizens, Alexander [director of the NSA] said, 'No...we don't hold data on U.S. citizens,' adding that the NSA staff 'take protecting your civil liberties and privacy as the most important thing that they do, and securing this nation.' But critics, including former NSA employees, say the data center is front and center in the debate over liberty, security and privacy." According to University of Utah computing professor Matthew Might, one thing is clear about the Utah Data Center, it means good paying jobs. "The federal government is giving money to the U.'s programming department to develop jobs to fill the NSA building," he says.
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NSA Data Center Brings Concerns Over Security and Privacy and Jobs

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  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Sunday April 14, 2013 @01:48PM (#43446657)

    the NSA staff 'take protecting your civil liberties and privacy as the most important thing that they do, and securing this nation.'

    Is anyone else having difficulty parsing this sentence?

    • by symbolset (646467) * on Sunday April 14, 2013 @02:02PM (#43446717) Journal
      "Out national security mission requires that we say we are not spying on you."
      • by Rich0 (548339)

        I'm not sure if they're outright spying on US Citizens, or if they're merely participating in some legal shell games.

        Most nations prevent their covert operations groups from legally spying on their own citizens. However, most of those nations still want to do it. The legal trick they employ is to spy on their allies citizens, and get their allies to spy on their own citizens, and then swap data.

        So, the NSA may very well not be sniffing your packets. However, the UK might be doing so, and the NSA might be

        • by symbolset (646467) * on Sunday April 14, 2013 @11:41PM (#43449343) Journal

          I can quite confidently assure you that the NSA is sniffing your packets in the US, in the UK and most of the rest of the world. They are recording your phone calls, your VOIP, your Skype and your Google+ Hangouts. They have records of every electronic financial transaction. They are also logging your twitter, your Facebook - even your private Facebook, your texts, your phone's GPS location, wifi-enhanced GPS location and tower triangulation. They know when you VPN to Finland, and the content of that stream, how long it takes you to get to work and where you stopped on the way home every single day. They know your medical history, who your friends are, who your family is, your political affiliation, your porn preferences, your positions on gun control, abortion, midget wrestling and furries. If you have a shrink they have audio recordings of your sessions. They know more about you than you do. They store all this data and they never forget.

          But they don't care. You are not in the slightest interesting to them. Storing all this data and analyzing it is just their job. It is to eight nines a very boring job handled by automation right up until you start - probably unbeknownst to you - intersecting with some data point that impacts their national security mission. And then they hit the "replay" button and dig into what makes you tick. They seriously don't give a damn if you're cheating on your taxes, running a brothel or slinging hash. They do care if your brother-in-law introduced you to his new friend he met on vacay in Pakistan and you take up some encrypted chats.

          If that wasn't true they wouldn't be doing their job.

    • by jamstar7 (694492) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @02:12PM (#43446757)

      the NSA staff 'take protecting your civil liberties and privacy as the most important thing that they do, and securing this nation.'

      Is anyone else having difficulty parsing this sentence?

      Is anyone else having difficulty believing them when they tell me my liberties and privacy is their most important task? Or is it violating said liberties and privacy that's their Job One? There's a reason why one of the 4 great lies of history is "Hi. I'm from the Government and I'm here to help!"

      • by onyxruby (118189)

        Just remember there is no need for them to spy on US citizens. After all if they want to do that they would just have the FBI do it. After all a fair amount of the time a pretty significant amount of spying can be done without even getting a warrant. I know people love to get extra paranoid and conspiracy theory bound here but look at the logistical complications. It isn't worth it for them to do it, and if something did catch their interest they would just call their buddies at the FBI who don't have the s

      • by thoth (7907)

        Or is it violating said liberties and privacy that's their Job One?

        Their two missions are: signals intelligence (gathering foreign info), and information assurance (protecting some government systems). Violating liberties/privacy isn't either one. As far as the warrantless wiretapping... they did what the administration ordered them too (that was Bush/Cheney if your memory is foggy). Basically, elect better Presidents if that's the overriding concern.

    • by PhamNguyen (2695929) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @02:33PM (#43446859)

      Sideshow Bob: (to Marge) Madame, your children are no more... than a pair of ill-bred trouble-makers.

      Homer: Lisa, too?

      Sideshow Bob: Especially Lisa! But, especially Bart!

      • by isorox (205688)

        Sideshow Bob: (to Marge) Madame, your children are no more... than a pair of ill-bred trouble-makers.

        Homer: Lisa, too?

        Sideshow Bob: Especially Lisa! But, especially Bart!

        Ironically Maggie is the worst

    • by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @03:37PM (#43447089) Homepage Journal

      Here's all you need to know:

      How do they say "fuck you" at the NSA?

      "Trust me, trust me."

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        When you don't know any of these people personally, it's easy to shoot off barbs.

        I've found NSA staff to be competent, reasonable, helpful and very well aware of their mission.
        Not so much the military, police or specific entities in the executive branch.

        This is in the context of a security guy in a big US corporation liaising with the government security organizations.

        I'd trust the NSA to know well what they've got on their computers, as opposed to say, the FBI, who in my dealings with them on LI (lawful in

        • by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @04:58PM (#43447427) Homepage Journal

          "When you don't know any of these people personally, it's easy to shoot off barbs."

          No, when the NSA has no check on it it's easy to shoot off barbs. Especially since they're in the business of spying on US citizens. When AT&T openly colludes with the NSA to pass all traffic to the NSA it's not just AT&T that loses my respect.

          And I'm not taking YOUR word that they're doing what they're supposed to be doing.

          • by thoth (7907)

            When AT&T openly colludes with the NSA to pass all traffic to the NSA it's not just AT&T that loses my respect.

            Well at least you recognize the substantial corporate cooperation required here. It wasn't just presidential orders (Bush/Cheney) at work here, private corporations had to cooperate. Not sure what the libertarian/free-market hive mind makes of that; most seem to want to conveniently forget about that part of the involvement.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 14, 2013 @01:52PM (#43446673)
    Job creation is a horrible justification for spending taxpayers' money on spying.
    • by icebike (68054)

      Especially when actually getting those jobs with NSA means offering up your entire
      life for continuous monitoring, not only on the job but every minute of every day for
      the rest of your life.

      Odd that Utah is so interested in the jobs that they offer up their universities to this purpose.

      • Someone who applies for a low-level job at NSA probably actually believes in what they do there. Then it comes naturally that they accept to be surveilled. They know it's for their own protection, and the state's.

      • Especially when actually getting those jobs with NSA means offering up your entire life for continuous monitoring, not only on the job but every minute of every day for the rest of your life.

        Anyone who has a security clearance has been through this gauntlet, and that a whole lot of people.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fustakrakich (1673220)

      Depends on your POV. 'Job creation' is a very effective propaganda tool. It also works in the pollution industries, like coal mining, oil drilling, old forest logging, etc., every well, especially in economically depressed areas. When they claim they are under attack the way the state and the church do, people instinctively come running to their aid.

      • by Feyshtey (1523799) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @05:21PM (#43447515)

        'Job creation' is a very effective propaganda tool. It also works in the ...

        ...green energy stimulus programs, "community organising", unions, tax hike pushes, anti-religion movements, and most (all?) political movements from communism to socialism to fascism to monarchies to dictatorships to theocracies.

        Dont pretend that the evil capitalist planet-killing industrialists have a monopoly on flat-out lying about job creation to further an end.

  • Sounds like China. Or the pre-civil-war South.
  • Interesting cycle (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MLBs (2637825) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @01:55PM (#43446685)
    The government is borrowing money from China to pay for jobs of people who spy on China.
    I wonder what would happen when this flow of cash stops.
    • Re:Interesting cycle (Score:4, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [retawriaf]> on Sunday April 14, 2013 @06:23PM (#43447827) Homepage

      I wonder what would happen when this flow of cash stops.

      Somebody else starts buying US debt.
       
      Otherwise, I hope you not thinking of the wingutter theory that China will suddenly sell off all their US holding (with the intention of crashing the US economy.) The wingnutters seem oblivious to the fact that Chinese will never do that - because it would not only crash their own economy, but also that of one of their largest markets, and severely damage the economies of their remaining markets. The Chinese are many things, but they aren't stupid. Their leadership knows full well what will happen if the middle and working class they've created is suddenly out of work.

      • by sursurrus (796632)
        They don't need to sell their US holdings. All they need to do is what they're doing, which is backing the international basket currency for oil purchases from OPEC. Once the petrodollar (look it up) is abolished as an international standard, US interest rates will go up across the board by 20-30%.... and guess who'll be in prime position to profit from it as one of our big lenders?
        • What part of "smashing the economy of one of their largest markets, severely damaging the economy of the balance, while also doing grave damage to their own, is something the Chinese aren't stupid enough to do" is too complicated for you to grasp?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well paying jobs, not good paying jobs. The jobs pay well. They don't pay good.

    • Pretty soon some manager will realize that they can more cost effectively offshore those jobs to India...
      • Extremely unlikely that these jobs will go offshore:

        1. Even unclassified government contract jobs go require citizens or green cards. Classified jobs require citizenship.

        2. The Salt Lake City area is lower in cost compared to alternative areas.It already gets companies that want cheaper workers, but needs them in the US.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A zettabyte is on the order of 1e9 (billion) hard drives.
    So I think not.

    • by magarity (164372)

      Not only that, but how do you generate that much data in the first place? Require everyone to wear their Google Glasses 24/7 and capture it all in high def?

      • by NFN_NLN (633283)

        Not only that, but how do you generate that much data in the first place? Require everyone to wear their Google Glasses 24/7 and capture it all in high def?

        Trust me, that is never an issue. From my experience any time you give an organization free space... it will be filled!

        Now, I'm not saying it will be useful stuff, but it will be full.

        • by Sulphur (1548251)

          Not only that, but how do you generate that much data in the first place? Require everyone to wear their Google Glasses 24/7 and capture it all in high def?

          Trust me, that is never an issue. From my experience any time you give an organization free space... it will be filled!

          Now, I'm not saying it will be useful stuff, but it will be full.

          Information expands to fill organizational free space,

          • by bmo (77928)

            Information expands to fill organizational free space,

            And butts expand to fit the office chairs they sit in.

            --
            BMO

      • by Anonymous Coward

        look up these two court cases. this is how they get the data. they basically put splices into the internet. we know about the ones in the US - we have no idea what they are doing outside the us, on undersea cables, in side various 'less than democratic countries' (Alexandria, Egypt has had a major internet backbone hub for over 15 years IIRC)

      • We gots ALL the porn.

  • Is this meaning "(Security and Privacy) and Jobs", "Security and (Privacy and Jobs)", or "Security, Privacy, and Jobs"? I think probably the first one.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 14, 2013 @02:38PM (#43446885)

    If you understand the story of Trailblazer and Tom Drake, you understand everything you need to know about this project.

    While you are at it, read "The Looming Tower" by Lawrence Wright - the NSA missed 9/11 not because of a lack of funding, but because of turf wars within the federal government between CIA, NSA, and FBI, and bureaucratic malpractice. Theoretically that was fixed under Bush when the CIA became just another of the dozen+ spy agencies under the umbrella of the DNI.

    Most empires crumble when they go broke on military spending out of some paranoid delusion about the idea that they must control the world through the use of force. America was supposed to be different. . . our ideas were supposed to win, not our bullets. And they have been winning... except on our own soil, where they seem to be in sunset, as every one comes out of the woodwork to feed on the federal teat, and when you ask them to justify the billions of dollars they spend, they say "can't tell you, its classified" and start throwing people in prison.

  • by sacrabos (2563893) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @02:42PM (#43446897)
    The U.of U seems to be okay with it as long as it's creating paying jobs. He's not concerned with the issues, just as long as they get money. We're forging our own chains of slavery to the government.
  • The building is huge! I heard it was 1sq mi.

  • It drives me crazy when otherwise intelligent persons use the phrase "good paying". As though they're sucking up to constituents who are too poorly educated to differentiate between adverbs ("well") and adjectives ("good").

    I realize this makes me sound like a petty grammar Nazi.

    • by djmurdoch (306849)

      It isn't a well paying job. It's a good job. And it's a paying job.

      • It isn't a well paying job. It's a good job. And it's a paying job.

        Seems to me it's either a "well-paying job", or a "good, paying job" (using your interpretation).

        But since it's hardly worth mentioning that a job is a paying job, so I doubt your interpretation is what the speaker meant.

    • by Shavano (2541114)
      God bless petty grammar Nazis! The world needs more of them.
    • Schools in many states stopped teaching things like that a few decades ago. I'm in my mid-30s, and my classes didn't study grammar beyond the basics (noun, verb, adjective, adverb identification), so we had to learn "naturally" just through reading; it worked fine for those of us that did read for fun or with our parents at home, but not so well for the others.

      (AFAIK, the change was the result of a mixture of funding being cut severely to schools in my state and voters/pundits decrying grammar & spelli

  • See... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @03:25PM (#43447053) Homepage Journal
    That's why he's the director of the NSA and I'm not. Because he can say "No, it will not hold data on US Citizens," and keep a straight face. No matter how much I practiced, I'd have to laugh the evil villain laugh after making a statement like that. Even if I had all the other qualifications, that would keep me out of the job.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you aren't stone cold enough to bullshit a polygraph you can't get the necessary SCI clearances to get that high in the organization. Keeping a straight face during a press meeting is easy by comparison.

      • I was interviewed once by the FBI concerning a programmer who had worked for me. He had applied for a sensitive job that involved inventory of nuclear weapons for the navy. When asked about drug use, I told them he had told me he had tried every drug known to man. On the other hand I told them he had always been forthright with me and that all they had to do was ask him. He got the job.
  • by GregNorc (801858) <gregnorc@gmail.SLACKWAREcom minus distro> on Sunday April 14, 2013 @04:02PM (#43447167)

    Define "good pay". Back when I looked at working for a similar agency, the pay was usually GS-9 at max to start.

    GS-9 is $47,448-$61,678 according to the 2012 locality tables [opm.gov] - not very good at all considering someone with a similar education could earn 90-100k in private industry.

    Sure, it's better than most people in Utah make, but by no means "good" pay by any objective metric.

    • by thoth (7907)

      GS-9 is near starting level. I was hired the same time as a guy with 3 years out of college, and he was brought in as a 9.

      considering someone with a similar education could earn 90-100k in private industry.

      Yes, but with 3 years out of school AND in the Utah area? If you live/work in the Bay Area your perspective on tech salaries is skewed.

      Sure, it's better than most people in Utah make, but by no means "good" pay by any objective metric.

      Better than most people Utah IS the metric of the local market. Objective metric? WTF, did God write down salary tables for the whole world to adhere to?

    • >Sure, it's better than most people in Utah make, but by no means "good" pay by any objective metric

      It's worst in Utah. That $47-$61k has to stretch to paying for 3-4 wives.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Sure, it's better than most people in Utah make, but by no means "good" pay by any objective metric.

      That is one of the stupidest comments I have seen on slashdot today. If a salary is better than most people in State or Country X make, then of course it's good pay for that area.

      Say half the people in Utah earn less than $30K a year, on $60K you're going to feel pretty well off. It's irrelevant that in San Francisco or Tokyo that would barely pay your rent.

  • by Max_W (812974)
    No data-center would ever substitute the legwork.

    Too many chiefs in data-centers and too few Indians patrolling. This is the problem.
  • Was this voted on in Congress ?

    I thought not.

    • by thoth (7907)

      Sure it was - Congress approves a budget (or we get a continuing resolution) and a portion goes to the DoD and intelligence agencies.
      Were you under the impression Congress dips down and approves every line item in every agency and sub-agency budget?

  • Hacking I have to say is one of the most uninteresting things IMHO. I mean really, who the hell cares you cracked something beyond the notoriety.

    That does not mean however, I do not carefully think about security in general during my design of software or computer networks.

    But, this new data center the CIA is building, is a gigantic target, and if you can break into something like that, keep yourself secret.

    Damn.

    You would have access to just about everything about everyone on the planet.

    Oh, and please. The

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      You won't be able to buy or sell online without your records going from the CIA, to the FBI and then over to the IRS with this facilities new capabilities.

      You can moan about government surveillance all you like, but if they're cracking down on tax evasion, I for one am all in favour of it.

  • Don't get me started about storing air plane passenger information and bank account information of people who never set foot in the usa of murica.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Don't get me started about storing air plane passenger information and bank account information of people who never set foot in the usa of murica.

      So what's this I hear about them storing air plane passenger information and bank account information of people who never set foot in the usa of murica?

  • 5 Zettabytes? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Phat_Tony (661117) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @06:18PM (#43447791)
    I'm surprised I don't see anyone here questioning this 5 zettabyte number. The biggest drives currently manufactured are 4 terabyte 3.5" drives. 5 zetabytes would require 1.25 billion of those drives. A great price on a 4TB drive right now is $190. I doubt there's enough margin in them to make this possible, but let's just say that based on the insane quantity they get them for $150 each. That's $187 billion for the drives alone, nothing for the computers and racks and air conditioning and all. The NSA's budget is estimated at 8 billion a year. $187 billion is 23 times their yearly budget. It would be about 3% of total federal spending for a year... just for the drives. Total facility costs would certainly run many times that... it would probably cost more than an entire year's military spending to build a 5 zettabyte data center.

    Also, you can fit about 500 terabytes in a server cabinet. That means 10 million server cabinets. A server cabinet is about 15 cubic feet of volume. So just the cabinets alone would run 150 million cubic feet. And that's just storage, not even including computers. And it's not like you can pack them in solid, of course. If you can make a datacenter with one third of its total volume being server racks, that would be amazing. The largest building [wikipedia.org] in the world is only 472 million cubic feet, this would have to equal or surpass it.

    Also, the entire world wide market for hard drives is only a little over 30 billion a year... [isuppli.com] this one project would consume over 6 times as much value in hard drives as every other use in the world combined for the year.

    Unless the NSA has developed their own mass storage technology that no one else knows about and is radically superior to anything commercially available, I'm guessing someone's exaggerating or got their numbers wrong.
    • I question this number as well, even considering decades of tapes, we're still off by factors of 100 or more here. I think what this is called more than anything is sensationalizing, your average layperson probably has never even heard the word Zettabyte. In fact I know this, when describing what I do for a living (HPC storage engineering) to my friends and family I have to constantly explain what a Petabyte is, let along anything larger than that.
    • Re:5 Zettabytes? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Guspaz (556486) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @08:54PM (#43448475)

      I agree with your point about how silly it is to throw around that number, but your storage density figures are a tad off... BackBlaze is hitting a density in real-world use of 180TB per 4U server, which in a 42U rack gives you 1800TB per rack with some room for switches. 5 zettabytes would therefore only require roughly 2,982,617 server cabinets. It's still ridiculously implausible, but ever so slightly less so ;)

      • by gelfling (6534)

        You'd still need a scouting party with survival gear and a week's rations to find a drive if you had to replace it.

        • by Guspaz (556486)

          In systems on such a scale, you don't replace failed drives, you design the system to tolerate a bunch of failures per system and then when a given system drops below a certain threshold where it's not being all that useful anymore, you pull the whole box. In this case, you could probably get away with a bunch of guys on segways or something, and make it a day trip.

    • Re:5 Zettabytes? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Jherek Carnelian (831679) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @10:17PM (#43448961)

      There are probably all kind of factors behind the 5ZB number.

      For example - it is probably uncompressed. It also probably includes tape robots. It also would never be bought all up front - they would have a strategy for buying new hardware as the amount of data they've collected grows. So maybe 5ZB after 10 years of operation - and just look at how fast storage density increases, it's faster than Moore's Law. [wikipedia.org]

    • Do you honestly think the NSA is using consumer grade hard drives ? They more than likely have access to storage technology that is beyond anything that is available to the public. As for NSA surveillance - big deal. The NSA went inward a long time ago so their is no point in worrying about their ability to eavesdrop on everyone.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      "The NSA's budget is estimated at 8 billion a year."

      This is the budget that is above ground for every one to see. The black box budget could be 100x this amount.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      An IBM tape library complex,http://public.dhe.ibm.com/common/ssi/ecm/en/tsd00872usen/TSD00872USEN.PDF, can store roughly 1PB/sq ft floor space. So about 1 million sq ft for 1 ZB. In ten years that might be 100,000 sq ft? Seems the NSA is capable of 5ZB target in near term already,

    • You don't build datacenters that way - fully populated.

      Upgrading buildings is hard. Adding racks is a pain. Adding things into racks is relatively painless.

      So you build a building that could hold and cool 5 zettabytes if you needed it to. Half fill it with racks. Populate those racks consistent with your current compute and storage needs. Add compute, storage and racks as your needs increase.

      Typically these buildings remain half full, because computers and disks get better faster than people understand. So

    • One petabyte of data is equivalent to 13.3 years of high-definition video, or all of the content in the U.S. Library of Congress. A zettabyte is a million pettabytes. That 5ZB would be 66 million years of hi-def video. Its estimated that global IP traffic will be .75 ZB for 2014. If you recorded all phone calls at 1MB/min and the average American spoke for 1 hour per day to a non American, that would require 18GB/day to store or 6.5TB/year.

  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Monday April 15, 2013 @07:44AM (#43450863)
    Placing the NSA data center in an ultra-conservative enclave where people of color are a rare thing was no accident, my friends.
  • by wcrowe (94389) on Monday April 15, 2013 @11:15AM (#43452293)

    Now the Mormons won't have to wait for everyone to go to Ancestry.com to find out everything about them.

  • ...is to store encrypted communication streams for brute force decryption over time. Scoop up all encoded communications for a person/group of interest, brute force one message-- voila! all collected communications become readable. Retire and rotate your keys periodically.

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