Many a criminal case ends up dismissed because of too little evidence.
But dismissing a case because of too much evidence is another thing entirely. And yet that’s precisely the situation with Dr. Armando Angulo, who was indicted in 2007 on charges of illegally selling prescription drugs. Angulo had fled the country in 2004, with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Marshals Service eventually finding him in Panama.
As the case developed (and Panama resisted calls to extradite Angulo back to the United States), the DEA apparently amassed so much electronic data that maintaining it is now a hardship; consequently, the government wants to drop the whole case.
“These materials include two terabytes of electronic data (which consume approximately 5 percent of DEA’s world-wide electronic storage capacity),” Stephanie M. Rose, the U.S. attorney for northern Iowa, wrote in the government’s July motion to dismiss the indictment. “Continued storage of these materials is difficult and expensive.” In addition, information associated with the case had managed to fill “several hundred boxes” of paper documents, along with dozens of computers and servers.
As pointed out by Ars Technica, if two terabytes of data storage represents 5 percent of the DEA’s global capacity, then the agency has only 40 terabytes worth of storage overall. That seems quite small for a law enforcement agency tasked with coordinating and pursuing any number of drug investigations at any given time.
Just to put things in a bit more perspective: it would cost the DEA around $3,500 (not including shipping and any tax) to buy twenty Western Digital 2-TB external hard drives from Amazon.com—a mere fraction of the agency’s roughly $2 billion budget.
Yet the motion to dismiss refers to storage of evidence related to Angulo’s case as an “economic and practical hardship.” The reference to “practical” may be key; a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (FAO) found that federal agencies in general are behind on plans to consolidate and update data centers, and that the Justice Department (which includes the DEA under its administrative umbrella) failed to report any recent successes in those efforts.
“Justice recognized that moving from the department’s current environment to a more unified, standardized, and cost-efficient approach for providing data center services requires change,” that report read, “and consequently, efforts were underway to drive more significant consolidation.”
Out of Justice’s overall IT infrastructure, the resources assigned to the DEA seem to constitute a relatively miniscule fraction. In addition, the agency may be bound by regulations related to evidence preservation that prevent it from easily accruing more storage; whatever the case, given the DEA’s overall budget and the rapidly dropping price of storage, it’s hard to believe that cost is the primary factor behind that (possible) 40TB ceiling.
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