Congress will watch TIA watch for terrorists

Aldridge acknowledged that TIA's data-mining capabilities are yet to be proven. It is still a technology program with no operational plans, he said.

The Defense Department this month lost its battle to fend off congressional oversight of its Total Information Awareness terrorist-tracking program.

Senate and House conferees adopted language in the final version of the fiscal 2003 omnibus spending bill that requires DOD to report to Congress about privacy concerns before proceeding with TIA data-mining research. Congress also must approve future deployment of the technology, which lawmakers said must not be used to collect data about U.S. citizens.

The Defense Advanced TIA Research Projects Agency wants to create tools to spot terrorist activities by searching and correlating information in disparate databases about individuals' finances, health and other transactions.

Widespread concerns about privacy and the potential for domestic spying led Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to propose a restrictive amendment to the spending bill.

DOD brass have tried to assuage concerns that the systems being designed could lead to privacy abuses.

Policies and protocols

Before lawmakers had passed the final version of the omnibus spending bill with the TIA amendment, Defense undersecretary Edward C. 'Pete' Aldridge Jr. said he would create and chair an oversight board of senior DOD officials. The board would set policies for development and use of TIA technologies and establish protocols for its transfer outside DOD.

The board plans to meet for the first time late this month.

Meanwhile, DOD also created an outside board with Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission during the Kennedy administration, as its chairman to advise the Defense secretary about constitutional and statutory limits on data collection about individuals.

The two boards were part of a DOD effort to sidestep Wyden's calls for congressional oversight. Aldridge said earlier that Pentagon officials had briefed Wyden and added, 'We think we can come to a compromise that is satisfactory to us.'

In the end, however, the only change in the amendment was a 30-day extension of the 60-day deadline for an initial report about the program following enactment of the spending bill.
DARPA's report to Congress must do three things:
  • Assess the impact on privacy in terms of needed changes to privacy laws

  • Evaluate the likelihood of obtaining usable intelligence

  • Detail development plans.

The amendment requires additional legislation before TIA technology can be transferred to another agency and prohibits its use against U.S. citizens.

Aldridge said there has been no reduction in the scope of plans for TIA. The oversight boards will give extra confidence that the technology is properly used, he said. He acknowledged that TIA's data-mining capability is 'yet to be proven. It is still a technology program' with no operational plans.

DARPA is developing three types of software for TIA: language translation, data search and pattern recognition, and collaboration and decision support tools. The system will not set up any databases about U.S. citizens, DOD has said.

Congress authorized an initial $10 million for the program in fiscal 2003. The Bush administration proposed another $20 million in its fiscal 2004 budget request.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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