- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

Privacy advocates from the political left and right are joining forces with Congress to stop funding of the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, a cyber-surveillance system labled by critics as a "supersnoop" system.
A measure blocking the program passed the Senate last month but must survive the House and Senate conference committee this week. The measure was added as an amendment to a 2003 omnibus spending bill.
"The folks behind this amendment aren't exactly a group that flocks together for every possible issue," said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and the amendment's sponsor.
"Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives are raising their voices and saying they don't want their government snooping on law-abiding Americans. The program amounts to unleashing virtual bloodhounds," Mr. Wyden said.
The TIA data-mining program seeks to collect public and private records, such as credit-card transactions and cell-phone usage, to identify terrorists.
Several civil liberties groups, dubbed the "Right-Left Coalition," participated in a teleconference call yesterday to raise awareness with House and Senate conference committee members on the need to retain the legislative language.
The coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Eagle Forum, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Free Congress Foundation, and People for the American Way.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, has expressed concerns over privacy, and his spokesman said the program's fate is questionable.
The amendment would block funding until the defense secretary, attorney general, and CIA director submit a report to Congress explaining the program in detail and any threats to privacy or civil liberties. It also requires congressional approval on the technology used.
TIA was initiated last year and is run by retired Vice Adm. John Poindexter, whose conviction for deceiving Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal was later overturned. After the coalition criticized the administration's choice to lead the agency, Adm. Poindexter's name and biography were removed from the program's Web site.
The program's original logo a pyramid with an all-seeing eye focused on the world and its slogan translated from Latin, "knowledge is power," further raised speculation as to the agency's mission and have also been redesigned. The new logo is an open pyramid with a ribbon running through it.
Mr. Wyden said the Web site changes are encouraging and indicate the administration is stepping away from the program as proposed.
Also, the White House on Tuesday sent congressional appropriators a letter outlining cuts and additional spending that would trigger a veto from President Bush. Maintaining the TIA program was not listed among the administration's main concerns or objections to the omnibus spending bill.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, has criticized the program, but Republicans have remained mostly mum on the issue, letting Democrats take the lead to block the program.
The Free Congress Foundation's Lisa Dean said the "bit of indecision on the Republican side of the aisle" comes from their inclination to support the Bush administration wholly in the war against terrorism.
Because the measure passed unanimously in the Senate however, conservatives expect Republicans to join ranks to kill the program.
"It is doubtful Republicans will jump up and support TIA and track law-abiding citizens. They know it would jeopardize their own re-election," said Lori Waters with the Eagle Forum.
Added Robert Fike with Americans for Tax Reform: "While we would like to see a bipartisan assortment of lawmakers come out against the TIA program in a more vocal fashion, what really matters is how they vote. And at the end of the day, we hope they vote the right way."
Chris Westphal, chief executive officer of Visual Analytics, said his company trademarked the phrase "total information awareness" and had begun proceedings to fight the Pentagon for using it.
However, the phrase has taken on such a negative connotation that Mr. Westhpal said they are no longer pursing ownership of the phrase, which is printed on the reverse side of his business card.
"I don't want to say it's tainted, but it's not something we now want to embrace as a slogan," Mr. Westphal said.

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