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[infowar.de] WPO 21.05.03 Pentagon Details New Surveillance System: Critics Fear Proposed Extensive Use of Computer Database Raises Privacy Issues
Pentagon Details New Surveillance System
Critics Fear Proposed Extensive Use of Computer Database Raises Privacy
By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2003; Page A06
The Pentagon yesterday detailed the development of a massive computer
surveillance system that would have the power to track people as never
It would identify people at great distances by the irises of their eyes,
the grooves in their face or even their gait. It would look for
suspicious patterns in video footage of people's movements. And it would
analyze airline ticket purchases, visa applications, as well as
financial, medical, educational and biometric records to try to predict
terrorists' acts or catch them in the planning stage.
The technology does not yet exist, and no one knows whether its creation
is even possible. Indeed, the very concept of what was originally known
as the government's Total Information Awareness initiative raised so
many privacy and civil liberties issues that, in February, Congress
banned its deployment. Legislators asked for more information about the
project and sought an analysis about how citizens' privacy would be
balanced with the need for security.
The report that was delivered to legislators yesterday identifies the
effort by a new name -- the Terrorist Information Awareness program. It
sought to allay concerns about privacy by outlining policies to conduct
spot audits of the data being collected and implementing technical
"The program's previous name, 'Total Information Awareness' program,
created in some minds the impression that TIA was a system to be used
for developing dossiers on U.S. citizens," the Pentagon's research arm,
the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, said in a statement.
"DoD's purpose in pursuing these efforts is to protect U.S. citizens by
detecting and defeating foreign terrorist threats before an attack."
DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker said the report is intended to express the
agency's "full commitment to planning, executing and overseeing the TIA
program in a way that protects privacy and civil liberties."
The core system seeks to create a database of public and private records
that could be analyzed for patterns leading up to terrorism. The
Pentagon has budgeted $9.2 million for the program in 2003, $20 million
in 2004 and $24.5 million in 2005.
"Attempts to 'connect the dots' quickly overwhelm unassisted human
abilities," the report stated. "By augmenting human performance using
these computer tools, the TIA Program expects to diminish the amount of
time humans must spend discovering information and allow humans more
time to focus their powerful intellects on things humans do best --
thinking and analysis."
The report outlines technologies and related programs in the
surveillance system, including programs to mine data in foreign-language
communications and to gauge biological threats by analyzing data from
hospitals and other sources.
Other, more speculative systems borrow from prediction techniques used
in the corporate world.
One, code-named "FutureMAP," would watch fluctuations in the public
markets to assess sentiment on a particular topic, "avoiding surprise
and predicting future events." Another, the "Misinformation Detection"
system, would analyze language and other aspects of text for false or
misleading information. In 2002, the report said, some researchers
demonstrated an ability to detect which companies might be the target of
Securities and Exchange Commission investigations, based on public
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who sponsored the February bill that requires
intelligence agencies to get congressional approval before deploying the
technology, said the report confirmed his worries that the system may
not be the best use of the government's resources because it focuses
mostly on theoretical possibilities.
He said new guidelines are needed on how such data should be used.
Current privacy laws protect individuals, but they apply only to the
private sector. The regulations place few constraints on the
government's ability to gain access to material for terrorism
"I don't take a back seat to anybody in fighting the Mohamed Attas of
the world, but before we send people on a virtual goose chase, the
country needs to understand what's at stake," Wyden said, referring to
one of the terrorists of Sept. 11, 2001. That sentiment was echoed by
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who said the report "fails to propose
any specific new rules to address the concerns raised by Congress."
Privacy and civil liberties groups were less diplomatic in their
criticism. The American Civil Liberties Union called it an "Orwellian
program." The Electronic Freedom Forum dubbed it a "giant
Both groups said the initiative goes against the notion that people are
innocent until proven guilty, and expressed worry that people deemed
terrorists by computer programs would not have any way of knowing and
any way of getting off such a list.
Civil liberties groups have fielded numerous complaints from some people
placed on the "watch list" for the Transportation Security
Administration because they have names similar to those of known
terrorists, and could not stop airlines from detaining and searching
them on every flight.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
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