As privacy advocates and security experts debate the validity of the National Security Agency's massive data gathering operations, the agency is putting the finishing touches on its biggest data farm yet.
The gargantuan $1.2 billion complex at a National Guard base 26 miles south of Salt Lake City features 1.5 million square feet of top secret space. High-performance NSA computers alone will fill up 100,000 square feet.
The Utah Data Center is a data farm that will begin harvesting emails, phone records, text messages and other electronic data in September.
"NSA's focus is on foreign intelligence and foreign intelligence that rides over the networks is what we're talking about," says Harvey Davis, the agency's director for installations and logistics.
Last summer, during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a reporter asked NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, whether the Utah center "will hold the data of American citizens."
"No," Alexander responded. "While I can't go into all the details of the Utah Data Center, we don't hold data on U.S. citizens."
Still, given the revelations of last week about NSA's data practices, privacy advocates worry that the Utah Data Center provides the agency more tools for gathering and analyzing electronic data generated by American citizens.
"We don't know ... most of what the NSA is doing," says Chris Soghoian, a policy analyst with the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.
"There is almost certainly surveillance that they would like to do and have not been able to do because they didn't have the storage or computing resources to perform the searches." Soghoian adds. "And this will give them the ability to do more searches through more innocent people's information."
The estimated power of those computing resources in Utah is so massive it requires use of a little-known unit of storage space: the zettabyte. Cisco quantifies a zettabyte as the amount of data that would fill 250 billion DVDs ( via npr.org ).