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[infowar.de] WT 17.01.03: Lawmakers Seek To Limit TIA Reach
January 17, 2003
Lawmakers Seek To Limit TIA Reach
Threaten to pull 'Big Brother' funds
By Audrey Hudson, The Washington Times
The Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program is under attack on
Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are threatening to pull funding or kill the
data-mining system legislatively.
A proposed amendment to the omnibus spending bill now before the Senate
would prohibit the use of funds for research, development, testing and
evaluation on the program's technology.
Dubbed a "Big Brother" program by critics, it would create a database of
public and private transactions in an effort to identify terrorists. The
TIA program was established quietly last year by retired Vice Adm. John
Poindexter and angered some Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
"They would be in a position to look at education, travel and medical
records, and develop risk profiles for millions of Americans in the quest
to examine questionable conduct and certainly suspicious activity that
would generate concern for the safety of the American people," said Sen.
Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat.
"I am of the view the Senate has a special obligation to be vigilant in
this area so we do not approve actions or condone actions by this
particular office that could compromise the bedrock of this nation, our
Constitution," said Mr. Wyden, sponsor of the amendment.
The amendment requires the defense secretary, attorney general and CIA
director to submit a report to Congress explaining in detail how funding
will be used and the program's effect on privacy and civil liberties.
Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, yesterday introduced a bill
to place a moratorium on data mining in the Defense and Homeland Security
departments until it could be reviewed by Congress.
"This unchecked system is a dangerous step that threatens one of the values
we are fighting for freedom," Mr. Feingold said.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican,
said the program has been authorized by the Armed Services and
Appropriations committees, which already have oversight responsibility.
"The Armed Services Committee has pretty good oversight on that now, so in
a general way Congress seems to be well-satisfied," the spokesman said.
Adm. Poindexter has refused interviews regarding the program, but the TIA
program issued a statement on its Web site stating it is not creating a
"supercomputer" to snoop into private lives.
The project is described as "an experimental prototype system that consists
of three parts language translation technologies, data search and pattern
recognition technologies, and advanced collaborative and decision support
tools," the statement said.
If the five-year project is successful, "the Department of Homeland
Security will consult with Congress to determine whether the TIA system
should be implemented for domestic use."
The statement said safeguards are in place to prevent privacy violations
against American citizens, but does not say what those safeguards entail.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and incoming chairman of the
Finance Committee, asked the Defense Department inspector general in
November to review the program.
"I am at a loss to understand why [Defense] resources are being spent on
research for domestic law enforcement," Mr. Grassley said in a letter to
Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Grassley said the senator wanted to see the full
inspector general's report before deciding if legislation is needed.
However, preliminary findings of the report have been shared with the
senator and "nothing so far has alleviated any concerns Mr. Grassley has,"
the spokeswoman said.
Several civil liberties groups Tuesday wrote to congressional leaders
urging that development of the program be stopped.
"TIA would put the details of Americans' daily lives under the scrutiny of
government agents, opening the door to a massive domestic surveillance
system," the letter said.
The letter was signed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center,
American Conservative Union, American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for
Tax Reform, Center for Democracy and Technology, Center for National
Security Studies, Eagle Forum, Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Free
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