Congress Kills TIA Program

Congress has killed the Pentagon’s controversial data mining program formerly known as Total Information Awareness (TIA). As a part of the Defense Appropriations bill, both the House and the Senate voted to eliminate funding for the Office of Information Awareness (IAO), the division of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that included TIA.

Despite his support for the project, President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

The legislation does not, however, restrict the National Foreign Intelligence Program (NFIP) from using technology tools developed under TIA for foreign intelligence purposes.

The IAO’s stated mission was 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.”

The IAO changed the name of the program to the Terrorist Information Awareness program when criticism about the program began to mount. It didn’t help.

In July, the House version of the defense spending bill cut all funding for TIA systems, but called for research to continue in data mining, privacy and security. The Senate version of the legislation allowed no funding for any of the projects. Late last week, members of the House-Senate conference on Defense Appropriations voted for the Senate version.

The legislation does allow funding to continue for select projects at DARPA, including Bio-Event Advanced Leading Indicator Recognition Technology ($6.3 million), Rapid Analytical Wargaming ($7.5 million), Wargaming the Asymmetric Environment ($8.2 million), and Automated Speech and Text Exploitation in Multiple Languages ($57.2 million).

According to Sen. Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.), one of the leading critics of the TIA, the approved programs are not data mining projects.

“I’ve always said I believe that you can fight terrorism vigorously without cannibalizing civil liberties, and TIA did not meet that test,” said Wyden. “Time and time again, the Defense Department sought to cross the line on privacy and civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism. The appropriators have wisely chosen to end this program.”

TIA was originally conceived and directed by retired Admiral John Poindexter, the former National Security Adviser to former President Reagan. Earlier this year, Wyden won unanimous passage of an amendment requiring a public report on the privacy and civil liberties implications of programs under the TIA umbrella, and requiring Congressional approval for the deployment or sharing of any TIA technology.

In July, Wyden and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) exposed the TIA program known as “FutureMAP,” which would have invited online betting on the possibility of terrorist attacks around the world. The Defense Department quickly eliminated FutureMAP and Poindexter resigned in the wake of the controversy.

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