DOD official criticizes DARPA on privacy

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has poorly planned how to protect privacy and civil liberties in the proposed Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) system, but the agency is now better focused on including protections, a top Defense Department official said last week.

During the first meeting of a committee formed to examine TIA privacy concerns, Michael Wynne, DOD's acting undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the committee that DARPA officials are visionaries who must look beyond current weapons and technologies, but "in this particular case, the vision exceeded their grasp."

TIA, originally known as Total Information Awareness, could access databases run by airlines, financial and educational institutions, and other groups to scour individuals' records for patterns that might indicate terrorist activity.

Wynne appeared June 19 before the Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee, an external oversight board DOD established in February in response to criticism that TIA failed to address constitutional rights, privacy protection laws and policies. A separate, internal DOD oversight committee has been formed to do the same.

Wynne said that increased congressional, internal and external oversight has convinced DARPA officials to better protect privacy and civil liberties when developing the system. "The debate between security and privacy I think is robust," he said. "They're developing collaborative programs and were marketing them as broader than they were."

Wynne said a report to Congress last month that outlined how DARPA will include privacy safeguards in TIA was a step in the right direction, but more attention is needed.

In the report, DARPA officials said they would comply with laws governing intelligence activities and protecting constitutional rights. The system would use only foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information legally obtained and legally usable by the government.

The system also would use information from artificial data generated to model behavior patterns. As part of its TIA research, DARPA will develop technologies that ensure privacy.

Wynne said DARPA has created written procedures that an agency must follow to use data gathered through TIA.

"What [DARPA] was trying to do is really emphasize what they considered to be standard knowledge, and that's insufficient," he said in an interview with Federal Computer Week. "They needed procedures to directly address privacy and tell them to do things like protect information or sign a confidentiality agreement. DARPA is mostly engineers who are not versed in establishing those kinds of procedures...and they needed to get them down on paper."

Zoe Baird, a member of the DOD committee and director of the Markle Foundation, which promotes using information technology to help meet public needs, said TIA's fundamental mission should be changed to include the protection of civil liberties, in addition to identifying terrorists.

Representatives from a Markle Foundation task force, including people from the legal, education and public policy communities, said DARPA should continue to develop TIA if privacy and oversight stipulations are met.

Jerry Berman, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said DARPA needs to consult other government agencies that could be TIA customers, especially the Homeland Security Department.

"Unless DARPA feeds [TIA information] into the Department of Homeland Security and there is a coordination among all their customers, you could end up with stranded investment, duplicative work or privacy insensitivity," Berman said. "I think it will happen because Congress will not let it go forward unless these questions are answered."

Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy advocacy groups have opposed TIA. Jay Stanley, communications director for the technology and liberty program at the ACLU, urged the DOD committee to file a report recommending the program be closed.

"Shutting it down is not only an option with wide public support, but in truth is the only wise course of action," Stanley said. "The simple fact is that the technology is developing at the speed of light, while the law crawls along at a tortoise's pace."

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