Between 2011 and 2013, a gargantuan structure took shape in the Utah desert. Covering one million square feet and costing over a billion dollars, the facility is the largest data center of the National Security Agency to date. Designed to hold what the Washington Post called “oceans of bulk data,” it’s a tangible manifestation of an American empire based in virtual space, a modern-day watchtower for electronic surveillance.
The scope of US surveillance had been far less conspicuous than the NSA’s architecture (which itself is off limits to the public) until the release in 2013 of top-secret NSA documents by the computer analyst Edward Snowden. These revelations were particularly significant for Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. Wizner had for years been bringing cases challenging the legality of surveillance programs, only to see them dismissed due to lack of “standing”—plaintiffs were unable to prove they were subjected to secret surveillance activities. The unmasking of NSA programs has placed Wizner upon decidedly firmer ground. Shortly after the world learned of Snowden, Wizner became his legal advisor. [Read more]
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