Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Massive New NSA Facility in Utah Ordered to Reveal Its Secrets…About Water Use

NSA's Utah Data Center
(photo: Rick Bowmer, AP)
ALLGOV | Apr 7, 2014 | Noel Brinkerhoff

In the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) spying on Americans, the agency’s new electronic storage facility in Utah has come under scrutiny over what kinds of information it might possess. Concerns over secrecy at the Utah Data Center, located outside Salt Lake City, have also arisen over records that don’t involve surveillance, but the use of water.

The data center in Bluffdale, which has yet to open, will require huge amounts of water once it is operational. Estimates show the vast collection of buildings that house fields of computer servers will consume about one million gallons of water a day. But that figure is really an estimate, since official information about water usage hasn’t been disclosed by the center.

This bit of secrecy prompted the Salt Lake Tribune to file a request under Utah’s open-records law for Bluffdale, which supplies the water, to release documents on usage by the NSA operation.

The city denied the request, claiming the release of such information would risk national security and put the municipality in violation of federal law. So the newspaper took its case to the State Records Committee, which enforces the state’s open-records statutes.

Bluffdale City Attorney Vaughn Pickell argued that turning over the water data “could be used to extrapolate the electrical power usage, and thus the computing power, of the Utah Data Center,” he wrote in a filing to the committee. But the committee ruled unanimously in favor of the Tribune and ordered Bluffdale to turn over the information within 30 days, or appeal the decision. The city has not indicated whether it will file an appeal.

The ruling is just the latest bad news to come out regarding the data center, which cost $1.5 billion to build and failed to open last fall as scheduled.

The Wall Street Journal  reported in October that the center has experienced serious electrical problems, resulting from assembling too many servers in one locale and relying on wiring that may not have been done properly in the agency’s rush to build the center.

Ten electrical “meltdowns” occurred in just over a year at the secret facility, which uses 65 megawatts of power, according to the Journal. That much wattage could power a city of 20,000 people. Meanwhile, Bluffdale has only 8,000 residents.

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