How Authoritarianism Will Lead To The Rise Of The Data Smuggler

Dave McCrory has developed the concept of data gravity. It dictates that data has its own mass. When data gets stored it becomes harder to move. The more data stored, the greater the mass.

The increasing efforts to control data provides a more dystopian vision about the future of transporting data. How does the data smuggler hide data of such weight when moving it from place to place?

Mark Maunder sees two new forms of data transportation emerging. He expects we will increasingly see innovations in hiding data new ways to encryption networks. Interestingly, he sees both as a new form of data smuggling that will come as we seek ways to avoid an overzealous authoritarian culture.

The idea of physically smuggling data might seem absurd. Why move it physically when you can transport it using a broadband connection? Maunder makes the point that if the data is too much to transport via broadband there are always data centers where you can go and download the data on a terabyte drive and then connect it to your laptop.

But moving data becomes a difficult task when there is a lot of it to move. It’s one of the real downsides to cloud computing. To port it, you have to pretty much either move it physically or through an encrypted connection between data centers. But few if any cloud services are offering that encrypted connection with rival providers.

Maunder tells a story about a conversation with Sebastian Thrun, the creator of Google Street Maps. Thrun told Maunder that the data from the “Street View” vans is put on hard drives and Fedexed to Google headquarters. Thrun told him that mailing hard drives will always be the highest bandwidth way of moving data around.

He also refers to  encryption laws passed in the United Kingdom that allows authorities to demand an individual’s encryption keys. Failure to turn over the keys means two to five years in prison.

What will come of this? Maunder sees innovators developing new ways to hide encrypted data when transferring it across a wire.

But physically moving data makes more sense for the data smuggler. He can move data by hiding it o his body far more fast than over an encrypted wire.


If you can hide a 2 terrabyte drive and take a 6 hour journey to get it from A to B, your bandwidth is 388 Megabits per second. Try and get that on your cable modem or ADSL link.

But there are all sorts of risks with moving data on your body. If a data smuggler uses a self-destructive hard drive, authorities can still claim he was hiding something. It has to be invisible. It has to be in your body. With that in mind, what if you could use your brain to move data?

He quotes an article from Scientific American:

The human brain consists of about one billion neurons. Each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than a trillion connections. If each neuron could only help store a single memory, running out of space would be a problem. You might have only a few gigabytes of storage space, similar to the space in an iPod or a USB flash drive. Yet neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.

A new form of authoritarianism is emerging as we seek new ways to move data. This will give rise to the data smuggler. How to hide the data will be the great challenge for these “data mules.” Perhaps the most effective ones will have a hidden data jack just behind their ear.

As Maunder points out, just like Johnny Mnemonic: