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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Monday, November 18, 2002
9:31 PM

Orin Kerr (Orin Kerr?) of the Volokh Conspiracy seems oddly serene in the face of John Pointdexter's Information Awareness Office, saying that much of what has been reported is wrong and that Total Information Awareness is not a "surveillance system":

As best I can tell, TIA is not a surveillance system, but the press has decided to cover it as if it were. Strange. Very strange.

Kerr seems to be saying that collecting things like credit-card transactions is no big deal. But it is a a big deal. As this Post story said,

The Information Awareness Office, run by former national security adviser John M. Poindexter, aims to develop new technologies to sift through "ultra-large" data warehouses and networked computers in search of threatening patterns among everyday transactions, such as credit card purchases and travel reservations, according to interviews and documents.

If this is accurate, I have a very big problem with it and all the alarms are well founded. Others better-versed in these matters seem to agree. From the same story:

Former senator Gary Hart (D-Colo.), a member of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, said there's no question about the need to use data more effectively. But he criticized the scope of Poindexter's program, saying it is "total overkill of intelligence" and a potentially "huge waste of money."

"There's an Orwellian concept if I've ever heard one," Hart said when told about the program.

I don't think this is chicken little. I'm looking into it.

UPDATE: Great starting points include a graphic at the Information Awareness Office website, which includes a list of some of the transactions that nice Mr. Pointdexter would like to vacuum: financial, education, travel, medical, vetrinary, country entry, place/event entry, housing, get the picture, virtually every conceivable aspect of your life that can be tracked through billing, registration or other transactions. Orin Kerr doesn't want to call this a surveillance system. Fine, call it a none-of-your-business system.

Separately, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has a ton of links and includes this comment:

The project calls for the development of "revolutionary technology for ultra-large all-source information repositories," which would contain information from multiple sources to create a "virtual, centralized, grand database." This database would be populated by transaction data contained in current databases such as financial records, medical records, communication records, and travel records as well as new sources of information. Also fed into the database would be intelligence data.

I think the key point right now is to realize that the Information Awarness Office already exists. As part of DARPA--Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency--it is basically an R&D program. That means it is not part of the national law enforcement/intelligence infrastructure. Yet.

UPDATE DIEUX: South Knox Bubba shows the Information Awareness Office graphic I referenced above in all its glory, and says:

It looks good on paper. The Detect -> Classify -> ID -> Track -> Understand -> Preempt mission goal is certainly worthy. But look at the "Transactional Data" source listing. Shouldn't this be of concern?

You know, I realize we are in a war with terrorists. And there is a military component to that war. But turning the military and its resources like DARPA inward on the citizens of the U.S. must have Thomas Jefferson and a lot of other founding fathers spinning in their graves. This is why we have a military under the civilian political control of an elected Commander in Chief, not to mention the Posse Comitatus Act....

That's the problem with this approach. Its logical conclusion is that you must surveil everyone to death (that'll be transacted too) to catch a few terrorists--maybe. You are certain to lose liberty in exchange for the possible capture of some terrorists.

There's more. In this March 5 story in Federal Computer, we find another approach that could be part of TIA:

* "Knowledge discovery" technology that uncovers and displays the links among people, content and topics.

Great. So they also want to track what I read, who I speak with, and what I'm thinking about.

Honestly, some of these guys fought the Soviet Union for so long it just rubbed off on them.

Smash it.

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