NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday

Technological Innovations Help Dictators See All

The following is a discussion on John Villasenor's paper "Recording Everything: Digital Storage as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments" with Rachel Martin on Weekend Edition Sunday.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: That brings us to our next story: the potential for governments, from dictatorships to democracies, to exploit technology, to spy on their own citizens. John Villasenor is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and he's written a paper on how governments may soon be able to record much of what is said or done within their borders. Every phone conversation, electronic message, Facebook post, tweet and video from every street corner and then store that information indefinitely. John joins us now from member station KQED in San Francisco to talk more about this phenomenon. Hi, John. Welcome to the program.

JOHN VILLASENOR: Thank you very much for having me.

MARTIN: So, this is a disturbing idea that a government, particularly an authoritarian government, could access so much information about a person. And you say this has to do with the cost of storing this kind of information. It's getting cheaper?

VILLASENOR: Yes. Storage costs, as many people know, have been dropping for quite some time. But what is perhaps less widely appreciated is how fast they've been dropping and how much they've dropped. It is now, for example, possible to store everything that someone says on a telephone for a year for about 17 cents. So, as these storage costs plummet, it all of the sudden becomes possible to actually archive it all. And that's what's changing. We're crossing these thresholds now and in the coming couple of years.

Listen to the full interview at npr.org »