December 23, 2011 (TSR) – For the first time ever, it will become technologically and financially feasible for authoritarian governments to record nearly everything that is said or done within their borders — every phone conversation, electronic message, social media interaction, the movements of nearly every person and vehicle, and video from every street corner. Governments with a history of using all of the tools at their disposal to track and monitor their citizens will undoubtedly make full use of this capability once it becomes available.
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So says Recording Everything: Digital Storage as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments, a Brookings report.
“Plummeting digital storage costs will soon make it possible for authoritarian regimes to not only monitor known dissidents, but to also store the complete set of digital data associated with everyone within their borders,” the report says. “These enormous databases of captured information will create what amounts to a surveillance time machine, enabling state security services to retroactively eavesdrop on people in the months and years before they were designated as surveillance targets. This will fundamentally change the dynamics of dissent, insurgency and revolution.”
Case in point: When Moammar Gadhafi’s forces lost control of Tripoli, it was found that equipment enabled Libya’s state security apparatus to capture and archive “30 to 40 million minutes” of telephone conversations every month and to regularly read e-mails exchanged among activists.
The information identifying the location of each of one million people to that accuracy at 5-minute intervals, 24 hours a day for a full year could easily be stored in 1,000 gigabytes, which would cost slightly over $50 at today’s prices, the report says. For 50 million people, the cost would be under $3000.
The audio for all of the telephone calls made by a single person over the course of one year could be stored using roughly 3.3 gigabytes. The information identifying the location of each of one million people to that accuracy at 5-minute intervals, 24 hours a day for a full year could easily be stored in 1,000 gigabytes, which would cost slightly over $50 at today’s prices. For 50 million people, the cost would be under $3000. On a per capita basis, the cost to store all phone calls will fall from about 17 cents per person per year today to under 2 cents in 2015.
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