Data Flows and Water Woes: The Utah Data Center

Hogan, Mél
Big Data & Society

Using a new materialist line of questioning that looks at the agential potentialities of water and its entanglements with Big Data and surveillance, this article explores how the recent Snowden revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) have reignited media scholars to engage with the infrastructures that enable intercepting, hosting, and processing immeasurable amounts of data. Focusing on the expansive architecture, location, and resource dependence of the NSA’s Utah Data Center, I demonstrate how surveillance and privacy can never be disconnected from the material infrastructures that allow and render natural the epistemological state of mass surveillance. Specifically, I explore the NSA’s infrastructure and the million of gallons of water it requires daily to cool its servers, while located in one of the driest states in the US. Complicating surveillance beyond the NSA, as also already imbricated with various social media companies, this article questions the emplacement and impact of corporate data centers more generally, and the changes they are causing to the landscape and local economies. I look at how water is an intriguing and politically relevant part of the surveillance infrastructure and how it has been constructed as the main tool for activism in this case, and how it may eventually help transform the public’s conceptualization of Big Data, as deeply material.