- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The Bush administration is opposing language tucked inside a spending bill that strips funding of the Terrorist Information Awareness program and puts restrictions on future deployment of the data-mining computer system.

“This provision would deny an important potential tool in the war on terrorism,” said the statement of administration policy, issued by the president’s Office of Management and Budget this week.

“The administration urges the Senate to remove the provision that prohibits any research and development for the Terrorism Information Awareness [TIA] program,” the statement said.

The language is contained in the defense spending bill for fiscal 2004 and the Senate is expected to vote on the full bill this week. A similar version passed the House 399-19 on July 8.

The program is being designed by the Pentagon to track terrorists, but has been widely criticized by privacy advocates as a supersnooping computer system that threatens civil liberties.

No single member of the Senate Appropriations Committee is taking responsibility for the language that bans spending on any element of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program.

However, Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, originally authored a second provision requiring congressional approval before any aspect of the program can be deployed.

“Senator Wyden’s goal has always been for Congress to play the role that it should and that is to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans that Congress represents, while at the same time vigorously fighting terrorism,” said Carol Guthrie, Mr. Wyden’s spokeswoman.

The bill would also require congressional approval of what kind of data or information is ultimately run through the program to identify terrorist traits.

The project was originally called the Total Information Awareness program and will compile and sift through public and private records including financial and travel documents. The program is headed by retired Navy Vice Adm. John Poindexter.

The Senate version differs from the House version, which does not eliminate spending, so the final language will not be determined until a single bill is hammered out in a conference committee.

A staffer for the House Appropriations Committee said full funding was not axed because some lawmakers felt it was “worth at least exploring for the potential element of intelligence gathering with restraints.”

Mr. Wyden’s provision was first attached to this year’s omnibus spending bill and was included on the defense spending bill to ensure congressional oversight for the 2004 fiscal year.

That language required TIA to submit a report to Congress explaining the proposed technology and how it would be used. The report was delivered in May but raised new questions as to what kind of data would be used.

TIA officials say they will only use data that is “legally obtained,” but many critics fear that will include information originally collected by marketing companies to profile consumers.

That type of information could include political and religious contributions, health problems and medicines purchased, and details about private property.

The $368.6 billion defense spending bill includes an average military pay raise of 4.15 percent plus an increase in the housing allowance.

The defense health program is funded at $15.7 billion. Another $74 billion is for procurement, and total funding for ammunition is increased by $92.7 million.

The administration called the overall bill “fiscally responsible” but said that falls $2.5 billion short of President Bush’s request for discretionary spending.

The administration also complained that the Senate’s proposed increase of $1.2 billion for procurement and $1.6 billion for research, development, test and evaluation goes toward a number of unrequested programs the administration does not support.

“These increases come at the expense of more important transformational programs included in the president’s budget, such as the Space Based Radar program, advanced military satellite communications, and the Ballistic Missile Defense System interceptor,” the administration’s statement said.

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