The Pentagons research arm, in a report released Tuesday, changed the name of its mammoth electronic surveillance project following public outcry, but concerns that the project will unnecessarily invade privacy without necessarily improving national security remain strong.
The Total Information Awareness program, now called the Terrorism Information Awareness program, under development at the Pentagons Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will integrate data search, pattern recognition and collaborative software to analyze potential terrorist threats. Because of public controversy over the secret research, Congress ordered DARPA in January to submit a report explaining the project, its efficacy and its impact on privacy.
According to the TIA report released today, one of the key elements of the program is developing a secure environment for collaboration among agencies. The program is also researching ways to structure and automate data searches, develop software to discover linkages among events, places, people and things, and incorporate memory into decision-making.
Recognizing that privacy issues are inherent in TIA, the report notes that the research includes the development of new technologies to safeguard privacy. Any agency considering deploying TIA tools would first have to conduct a legal review.
Privacy rights advocates applauded the report as a good first step in what they say must be ongoing oversight of this and other data mining projects. Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, said he was encouraged that the report recognized that the effectiveness of a project like TIA should be evaluated before it is deployed.
“They acknowledge that a threshold question is effectiveness,” Dempsey told eWEEK. “They acknowledge that the law has imposed very few limits on what [data] they can get and how they can get it.”
In anticipation of the report, the American Civil Liberties Union prepared a “pre-emptive analysis” of the TIA program, detailing its evolution. In addition to changing the projects name in response to public criticism and concern, DARPA replaced a chart on the TIA website, eliminating a long list of the types of information expected to be included in the system. The categories of data included financial, educational, medical, geographic and travel information among other things. The updated chart shows no such list.
During a hearing before the House technology and information policy subcommittee Tuesday, Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLUs Technology and Liberty Program, told lawmakers that the government has issued constantly shifting information about TIA and other data mining projects, including the second-generation Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II).
“These systems are inevitably going to be intrusive even is they dont make us safer,” Steinhardt said, urging Congress to begin establishing new privacy rights policies in light of the emerging surveillance technologies.
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