Grinding your Personal Information– Your Tax Dollars at Work

I’m back from my annual one-day jaunt down to Washington DC for the computer show formerly known as the Federal Office Systems Exposition. Now, it’s just FOSE, pronounced ‘fah-cee.’ You can get a good feel for what’s happening in the government computer markets based on what’s showing in the DC Convention Center.

This year, the main hall of the Convention Center was busy, but only at about 2/3 capacity. This show has never filled the new convention center–the old one was retired a few years back and two blocks south, and that one was always full. But this is a bigger building, and the show is smaller than it used to be. Actually, the show floor covers two city blocks, below ground, and if you go up to the registration area or up another floor to the keynote and conference rooms, it’s clear that it’s really two buildings. There’s even a DC Metro train stop at one end of the building, shared with Mt. Vernon Square.

For the last two years, the dominant items on the show floor have been removable storage devices with security features, and eGovernment systems for converting agencies with actual people into web sites with actual forms and automation. That’s progress in the US capital, maybe.

This year, regulations have changed regarding the destruction of personal data. And the US military is being more careful too. So, the item that wasn’t visible in previous years, that was everywhere this year, is demolition of computer hardware, shown by at least seven companies. First, there was a degaussing machine (OK, three different machines), that rotate a hard drive through a massive magnetic field. I fed in a hard drive, but there was no visible change–their demo didn’t actually show that the drive had lost all formatting, including servo tracks.

Degaussing isn’t visible enough for government use, apparently. They want to look at a device and SEE that it’s not readable. In the dark, apparently.

That means there was a vendor that sells a machine (with a hidden sound-muffled hydraulic compressor) that folds hard drives in half, the long way–it’s a clean 90 degree bend. Another had a hard drive destroyer that pushes a 2″ blunt cone down into the center of the drive until it becomes visible on the far side, shattering the platters. Again, it’s pneumatic, using a compressor.

There was another machine that folded drives, but electric or hand-crank operated for field use in a battlefield. There was a truck-mount hard drive shredder that reduces the drives to 1″ or smaller chunks–that one wasn’t on the show floor–it’s driven to clients for mass destruction of drives. And another portable device snipped the drives in half with a hydraulic claw.

Not to be outdone, another vendor had samples of what comes out of their computer shredder. Yes, the entire computer. But wait, there’s more… one supplier to the US government is actually doing it right–they shred the entire computer, grind it into fine dust, sort it both magnetically and by density into its component bits of metal alloys, plastic, gold, all the good stuff, and recycle it. They showed off clear containers of the various sorted powders.

So, your next appliance may contain 5% recycled US military computer parts and data. Guaranteed unreadable by the current level of technology.

Elsewhere at the show, there were the usual vendors, a mixture of the software companies you know, and the government specialists that build their offices around the edges of DC–locally, they’re called ‘Beltway Bandits.’

Last year, Google had a shared area in a small booth, showing off their hardware search technology that they install on client sites for searches of private networks–it’s called a ‘search appliance.’ This year, they had one of the largest areas on the floor, with seating for seminars in groups of around 50 people, and they gave introductory lessons on buying adwords, and showed what Google Earth could do for the military, and demonstrating the new real-time Google Earth weather alerts.

More tomorrow…