1
Nov
2004

Uncle Sam Is Watching You

Reports of the death of TIA were greatly exaggerated.

In October 2003, Congress voted to end Total Information Awareness (TIA), a Pentagon plan designed to analyze vast amounts of computer data about all of us in order to search for patterns of terrorist activity. At the time, the vote in Congress seemed one of the most notable victories for privacy since September 11. Computers record virtually everything we do these days— whom we call or e-mail, what books and magazines we read, what Web sites we search, where we travel, which videos we rent, and everything we buy by credit card or check. The prospect of the military and security agencies constantly trolling through all of this information about innocent citizens in hopes of finding terrorists led Congress to ban spending on the program. Admittedly, much of the credit for TIA's defeat has to go to the Pentagon's public relations department, which not only gave the program its less than reassuring name, but also came up with a logo consisting of a pyramid topped by a large, digitized eye and the Latin motto Scientia Est Potentia, or "Knowledge Is Power." George Orwell and Michel Foucault could hardly have done better. It also helped that the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which developed the plan, was headed by John Poindexter, who had been convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-contra affair, and whose conviction had been overturned on appeal only on a technicality. The vote to kill TIA came shortly after DARPA floated the idea of creating a market for betting on terrorist attacks and other disasters. Still, the fact that Congress rejected TIA seemed to suggest that it was willing to stand up for privacy even in the face of the threat of catastrophic terrorism.

But reports of the death of TIA were greatly exaggerated.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17568


From:
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Top Stories - November 1st, 2004
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