- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

The Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program is under attack on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are threatening to pull funding or kill the data-mining system legislatively.
A proposed amendment to the omnibus spending bill now before the Senate would prohibit the use of funds for research, development, testing and evaluation on the program's technology.
Dubbed a "Big Brother" program by critics, it would create a database of public and private transactions in an effort to identify terrorists. The TIA program was established quietly last year by retired Vice Adm. John Poindexter and angered some Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
"They would be in a position to look at education, travel and medical records, and develop risk profiles for millions of Americans in the quest to examine questionable conduct and certainly suspicious activity that would generate concern for the safety of the American people," said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat.
"I am of the view the Senate has a special obligation to be vigilant in this area so we do not approve actions or condone actions by this particular office that could compromise the bedrock of this nation, our Constitution," said Mr. Wyden, sponsor of the amendment.
The amendment requires the defense secretary, attorney general and CIA director to submit a report to Congress explaining in detail how funding will be used and the program's effect on privacy and civil liberties.
Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, yesterday introduced a bill to place a moratorium on data mining in the Defense and Homeland Security departments until it could be reviewed by Congress.
"This unchecked system is a dangerous step that threatens one of the values we are fighting for freedom," Mr. Feingold said.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said the program has been authorized by the Armed Services and Appropriations committees, which already have oversight responsibility.
"The Armed Services Committee has pretty good oversight on that now, so in a general way Congress seems to be well-satisfied," the spokesman said.
Adm. Poindexter has refused interviews regarding the program, but the TIA program issued a statement on its Web site stating it is not creating a "supercomputer" to snoop into private lives.
The project is described as "an experimental prototype system that consists of three parts language translation technologies, data search and pattern recognition technologies, and advanced collaborative and decision support tools," the statement said.
If the five-year project is successful, "the Department of Homeland Security will consult with Congress to determine whether the TIA system should be implemented for domestic use."
The statement said safeguards are in place to prevent privacy violations against American citizens, but does not say what those safeguards entail.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and incoming chairman of the Finance Committee, asked the Defense Department inspector general in November to review the program.
"I am at a loss to understand why [Defense] resources are being spent on research for domestic law enforcement," Mr. Grassley said in a letter to Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Grassley said the senator wanted to see the full inspector general's report before deciding if legislation is needed.
However, preliminary findings of the report have been shared with the senator and "nothing so far has alleviated any concerns Mr. Grassley has," the spokeswoman said.
Several civil liberties groups Tuesday wrote to congressional leaders urging that development of the program be stopped.
"TIA would put the details of Americans' daily lives under the scrutiny of government agents, opening the door to a massive domestic surveillance system," the letter said.
The letter was signed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, American Conservative Union, American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Center for Democracy and Technology, Center for National Security Studies, Eagle Forum, Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Free Congress Foundation.


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