Senator tries to cut TIA funding

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is trying to cut off all money for a Defense Department system known as Total Information Awareness that would develop technology to gather vast amounts of information on American citizens.

The project, which is being overseen by former national security adviser John Poindexter, is at the center of a political storm involving both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill who want congressional hearings before the system continues.

Wyden went a step further Jan. 15 by introducing an amendment to the huge spending bill for fiscal 2003 to prohibit funds for the program.

"Adm. Poindexter is proposing a radical departure from standard means of surveillance by proposing to use a bulldozer rather than a fine-toothed comb," Wyden said in a statement. "The creation of a gigantic data surveillance system that scoops up intimate details about an individual's personal behavior without their consent is a danger."

Wyden also wants a list of all federal agencies that would be interested in using TIA and why, and he also seeks suggestions on how to develop the technology to "protect the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. citizens."

Poindexter, a retired Navy rear admiral, was a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s. He now heads the Information Awareness Office, which began developing methods a year ago to use data surveillance and profiling technology that can analyze reams of data from everyday transactions — including credit card purchases and travel records — in an effort to detect the activities of terrorists.

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