The Pentagon has approved 26 research grant proposals for the military’s controversial Total Information Awareness Program (TIA). Although Congress has blocked future funding for the data mining program until the Pentagon can resolve privacy concerns, the grants were approved under previous budget requests.
The TIA program, under the direction of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), 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 grant proposals for the secretive program were revealed through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center of Washington.
The Pentagon attempted to block the public release of the documents by imposing unprecedented fees on EPIC, a public interest research organization. EPIC challenged the fee determination, and a federal district court ruled for EPIC and against the Department of Defense.
The court held that EPIC is entitled to “preferred fee status” under the FOIA and ordered the Pentagon to “expeditiously” process EPIC’s almost year-old request for information concerning TIA.
After the decision EPIC held discussions with DARPA to streamline the document processing. EPIC anticipates receiving more documents covering various aspects of DARPA’s data mining activities and the TIA over the next few months.
The first batch of documents released under the FOIA request are letters from Admiral Poindexter, TIA director, to various companies that submitted projects for grants under DARPA’s solicitation notice, BAA-02-08, which was published on March 21, 2002.
BAA-02-08 is a solicitation notice covering the Defense Department’s TIA’s program and states that, “DARPA is soliciting innovative research proposals in the area of information technologies that will aid in the detection, classification, identification, and tracking of potential foreign terrorists, wherever they may be, to understand their intentions, and to develop options to prevent their terrorist acts.”
The letters are DARPA’s responses, stating either approval or rejection of the research project. The letters provide information on the contractors, their project title, and the government contact for the project, if it met with DARPA approval. The documents do not show how much funding the proposals received, but they do show most proposals should anticipate receiving funding between $200,000 and $1 million.
According to EPIC’s evaluation of the documents, the three main topic areas solicited for proposals include:
The proposal further states, “the term ‘database’ is intended to convey a new kind of extremely large, omni-media, virtually-centralized, and semantically-rich information repository that is not constrained by today’s limited commercial database products — we use ‘database’ for lack of a more descriptive term. DARPA seeks innovative technologies needed to architect, populate, and exploit such a database for combating terrorism.”
The list of contractors who sought funding range from large corporations, including Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, to small technology start-ups and large research universities.