One of the benefits of advances in technology is that the cost of storage in the past two years has plunged thanks to cloud computing and the falling price of traditional hard drives.

But with revelations that American and British electronic spy agencies are accessing huge volumes of email and voice data a security expert has posed an interesting question: Is surveillance widespread because it’s too cheap?

The argument made by security expert Bruce Schneier this week at the Usenix LISA conference in Washington is that security agencies don’t have to be selective in their targets because the cost of storing all the data they scoop up for analysis is cheap.

Well, relatively cheap. For example, the U.S. National Security Agency is spending US$2 billion on a facility in Utah with a 100,000 sq. ft Tier III data centre. We’ll assume for the moment that most of the cost is security, redundant backup, the huge electric substation etc.

Would the NSA be doing it if the cost of storage was three times as much as it is today? Maybe,  because the agency wants to be seen to be on the leading edge of serving the electronic intelligence needs of the U.S.

Then again, Schneier argues, the real data collection is being done initially by Google, Twitter and others.

How can the cost of collecting data be raised? One way is bad publicity: It’s now bad for business to co-operate with the NSA.

Should we do more? Force the price of hard drives to skyrocket?

Read the whole article here.