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Wyden Questions Pentagon's TIA Report

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D.Ore.) says he remains "deeply concerned" about the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Total Information Awareness Program (TIA), the controversial data mining project that aims to capture the "information signature" of people in order to track potential terrorists.

In February, Wyden sponsored an amendment to a spending bill to stop all funding for the proposed surveillance program until the Pentagon can prove to Congress the program does not violate privacy rights. The amendment also called for a report on the TIA within 90 days, which DARPA completed on May 20.

Wyden's comments on Tuesday were in response to the DARPA report.

"Your report states that 'the TIA Program is not attempting to create or access a centralized database that will store information gathered from various publicly or privately held databases,'" Wyden wrote in a letter to Dr. Anthony Tether of DARPA. "Nonetheless, it is clear that the TIA Program will access any number of such databases and then sort through the information."

Wyden added, ""I remain deeply concerned that TIA technology will be used to plow through large amounts of private information on individual Americans in search of hypothetical threat situations."

The questions in Wyden's letter cover a number of privacy and civil liberties issues, including what information will be obtained for TIA, whether citizens will be used voluntarily or involuntarily when some technologies are tested, and what information will be made available to Congress as the program moves forward.

The TIA program is a project of the Information Awareness Office (IAO), which is under DARPA and is headed by former Reagan administration national security advisor John Poindexter.

The IAO's stated mission is to "imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate and transition information technologies, components and prototype, closed-loop, information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness useful for preemption; national security warning; and national security decision making."

Washington think thank Cato Institute interprets that as "a colossal effort to assemble and 'mine' massive databases of our credit card purchases, car rentals, airline tickets, official records and the like. The aim is to monitor the public's whereabouts, movements and transactions to glean suspicious patterns that indicate terrorist planning and other shenanigans."