February 17, 2018

Total Information Awareness? Now It’s Terrorism Information Awareness

By LJ Staff

Remember the Pentagon’s projected Total Information Awareness system, which would mine databases to help track terrorists? Now it’ll be the Terrorist Information Awareness program, government officials say, because the previous name created the misleading false impression that system would be used to “for developing dossiers on U.S. citizens.” The program hasn’t been launched yet, but the name change was revealed in a report to Congress May 20, which was required as a condition for allowing further research. The Pentagon said the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was complying with all federal privacy laws as it developed TIA, using synthetic or artificial information. “Safeguarding the privacy and the civil liberties of Americans is a bedrock principle,” said the report. (To see the report, go to http://www.darpa.mil/body/tia/tia_report_page.htm.)

But agencies that ultimately use real information the program would have to comply with privacy laws and that, reported the New York Times, has alarmed privacy advocates. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who spearheaded the legislation that required the report and delayed TIA without new authorization, said that a system dealing only with “legally collected information” left too many loopholes. Said James X. Dempsey, the executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, “Prior to 9/11, the government had awesome powers but failed to use them well. Those failures had little if anything to do with the rules established to protect privacy. . Before 9/11, the FBI was not prohibited from use of commercial databases. But under the PATRIOT Act and other laws, the FBI may have the authority to scoop up entire databases of information, including data on persons suspected of no wrongdoing. Our laws are totally inadequate to deal with the reality of decentralized commercial databases and the new techniques of data mining.