DARPA Funds TIA Privacy Study

The Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) will investigate the individual privacy protection aspects of the controversial Total Information Awareness (TIA) program as part of a $3.5 million contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Information Directorate.

The 42-month agreement, “Protecting Privacy of Individuals in Terrorist Tracking Applications,” is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The TIA program aims to capture the “information signature” of people in order to track potential terrorists and has been sharply criticized by privacy and civil liberties groups. The 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.

A related AFRL effort funded by DARPA will improve database integration technology. According to DARPA, integrating databases from different sources will ultimately produce information relevant to identifying potential foreign terrorists and their possible supporters, activities, prospective targets and operational plans.

The PARC contract comes after the Senate voted to cut off funding to the TIA program unless the intelligence community submits a detailed report to Congress on the privacy and civil liberties implications of the system.

The Senate vote also requires Congressional authorization before TIA is deployed by any agency. However, exceptions in the amendment allow President Bush to approve continued funding for TIA, and the use of TIA for military operations outside the United States.

Under the DARPA contract, PARC engineers will focus on creating privacy filters, “aliasing” methods, and automated data expunging agents to protect the privacy of U.S. citizens, and those not involved with foreign terrorists.

“Our research will be designed to address privacy protection issues,” said Patrick K. McCabe, program manager in the directorate’s Information and Intelligence Exploitation Division. “We will develop techniques that restrict analysts looking for potential terrorists activities from necessarily knowing the identities of the individuals who might fit patterns attributed to that activity.”

Added McCabe, “We envision software that will mask the identity of any individual whose pattern of activities triggers the suspicion of investigators. Additional authorizations would be required and some formal process established to allow an investigator to get an individual’s identification.”

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