KDnuggets : News : 2003 : n18 : item3 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >


Subject: House, Senate agree on closing TIA

Sep 25 -- By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN -- Associated Press Writer

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a spending bill that eliminates money for the Total Information Awareness project, effectively putting an end to the controversial Pentagon antiterrorism plan, which sought to assemble computerized dossiers on Americans.

The 407 to 15 vote on Wednesday approved a conference bill drafted by a joint House-Senate committee. The approval vote is the result of a year of fierce lobbying by privacy advocates to eliminate TIA (recently renamed "Terrorist Information Awareness") and of Pentagon efforts to defend it against mounting public and congressional criticism. Adm. John Poindexter, who ran the Defense Department's Information Awareness Office that managed the TIA project, resigned last month.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who led opposition to the TIA project on Capitol Hill, said in a telephone interview that the "program that would have been the biggest and most intrusive surveillance program in the history of the United States will be no more. The lights are going out at the office."

Originally, only the Senate version of the annual Defense Department appropriations bill included the funding restriction, while the House bill did not. Members of the closed-door joint committee decided to keep the language restricting the budget for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), saying that they were "concerned about the activities of the Information Awareness Office and direct that the office be terminated immediately."

Jan Walker, a spokeswoman for DARPA, said on Thursday: "I don't want to make a comment. The congressional language speaks for itself."

The legislation, which still must be approved by the Senate, does permit TIA or a similar system to be used for data-mining--as long as the targets are not U.S. citizens or residents. It says that "the conference agreement does not restrict the National Foreign Intelligence Program from using processing, analysis and collaboration tools for counterterrorism foreign intelligence purposes."

Wyden stressed that provision would effectively curb the reach of TIA. "What they did say was that some of the technology programs can be used by some of the foreign intelligence programs," he said. "This is significant, because it ensures that American citizens on American soil will not become targets of TIA surveillance programs that could have seriously violated their privacy."

The National Foreign Intelligence Program is a broad term covering the budgets of any federal agency with an intelligence-related mission, including the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Department. Those agencies are defined in Executive Order 12333. In January, Defense Department Inspector General Joseph Schmitz acknowledged that the FBI was considering "possible experimentation with TIA technology in the future."

Marc Rotenberg, director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, said that Poindexter's resignation this summer indicated that TIA would not survive the conference committee.

"I think there was consensus from both Democrats and Republicans that TIA was poorly conceived and poorly executed," Rotenberg said. "The point is important, because people were reacting to the underlying premise that you would gather up this data, and the fact that people like John Poindexter were gathering up this stuff."

The Pentagon office that was developing a vast computerized terrorism surveillance system would be closed and no money could be spent to use those high-tech spying tools against Americans on U.S. soil, House and Senate negotiators have agreed.

But they shifted some of the high-powered software under development to different government offices, to be used to gather intelligence from U.S. citizens abroad and foreigners in this country and abroad.

Among the items shifted was research on collaborative software designed to allow U.S. agents to connect the dots between disparate items of intelligence now scattered among different federal agencies, a senior Senate aide said Thursday.

"The conferees agree with the Senate position which eliminates funding for the Terrorism Information Awareness program within the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency,'' the conference report said in a section Wyden released. "The conferees are concerned about the activities of the Information Awareness Office and direct that the office be terminated immediately.''

In addition to the data-scanning project, other TIA efforts that cannot be pursued by DARPA under the conferees' agreement include projects to identify people at a distance by using radar or video images of their gait or facial characteristics.

See AP story in Charleston Gazette Mail, or in Washington Post.

KDnuggets : News : 2003 : n18 : item3 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >

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