Rob in Baltimore just sent me an email that makes an excellent point. He notes that the USA Today story says:
"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation.Rob says of this:
This still doesn't sit well with me - we're not even remotely getting all of this story. A database of numbers that simply say A called B cannot possibly be the "largest database in the world". Virtually every single phone company holds years and years of billing records like these. Even pooled together, they wouldn't create the world's largest database, not by a long shot. If you simply attached an audio file to each of those records, well then now you'd be talking about the kind of dataset that would create the "largest database in the world".So here's my challenge to you, dear readers. What other databases are out there that are huge. I want some back-of-the-envelope analyses - the kind you economics freaks do for fun - of:
1. How "large" would a database be that simply contained every American with a phone line, and a list of all the phone calls he/she received and made over the past, say, five years.
2. What other large databases are there in existence around the world - public, private, you name it - and how would "big" are they? For example, the IRS clearly has a database of every taxpayer - how big is that, and how would that compare to the database in point 1 above? What other "large databases" are there out there and how do they compare?
I don't just want to know that so-and-so has a large database, I want a guess-timate as to how large it is and how it compares to what the NSA is doing with the phone companies - number of entries, variables, etc.