Groups call for halt to TIA

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Total Information Awareness (TIA) system is continuing to make headlines that the Defense Department would rather avoid.

The latest development is in the form of a Jan. 14 letter signed by a nonpartisan coalition of watchdog organizations urging Congress to stop further development of the system.

In theory, TIA would enable national security analysts to detect, classify, track, understand and pre-empt terrorist attacks against the United States by spotting patterns using public and private transaction and surveillance methods.

The system, parts of which are already operational, incorporates transactional data systems, including private credit card and travel records, biometric authentication technologies, intelligence data and automated virtual data repositories. The goal is to create an "end-to-end, closed-loop system" that will help military and intelligence analysts make decisions related to national security, said Robert Popp, deputy director of DARPA's Information Awareness Office (IAO), which is heading up the effort.

But the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Center for Democracy and Technology and other groups disagree.

"TIA would put the details of Americans' daily lives under the scrutiny of government agents, opening the door to a massive domestic surveillance system. Congress should prohibit the development of TIA," the letter states. "Congress should not allow the Defense Department to develop unilaterally a surveillance tool that would invade the privacy of innocent people inside the United States."

The letter was sent to myriad congressional leaders and also signed by representatives of the Center for National Security Studies, the Eagle Forum, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Free Congress Foundation.

The watchdog groups are not alone in questioning TIA. Many lawmakers, including Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), incoming chairwoman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, have also publicly questioned aspects of the system. In addition to privacy concerns, they have expressed reservations about the appointment of John Poindexter as IAO director. Poindexter was national security adviser to President Reagan and may be best known for his part in the infamous Iran-Contra scandal.

Call to Stop Funding

In the fiscal 2003 budget, the TIA project is funded at $10 million, and DOD officials are developing future funding requirements, said Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, at a Nov. 20 press briefing.

However, EPIC obtained DARPA budget documents and found that although the TIA budget is $10 million, related programs that may become part of the system are funded at $240 million for fiscal 2001 through fiscal 2003.

Popp said IAO's budget for fiscal 2003 is about $150 million, up from about $96 million last year. He added that DARPA received more than 170 proposals after issuing a broad agency announcement for the TIA system in March 2002 and is in the process of funding the most relevant ones.

In its letter, the coalition recommended that Congress at least stop TIA's development and funding "while it takes a closer look at the program through oversight hearings, investigations and reporting."

The letter included numerous questions that the groups want answered before any more money is spent on the system, including:

* Why is DOD developing a domestic surveillance apparatus?

* What databases of personal information would officials envision giving TIA access to?

* What "nontraditional data sources" have already been used in testing and deploying TIA?

"Similar questions need to be asked about other initiatives that will vastly expand government collection and use of personal information, such as the CAPPS II (Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System) program of the Transportation Security Administration," the letter stated.

DARPA officials were not available for comment, and a spokeswoman for the agency previously said that questions related to the TIA system would not be answered until March.


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