The Total Information Awareness System. (Legal Issues)

By Ardito, Stephanie C. | Information Today, January 2003 | Go to article overview

The Total Information Awareness System. (Legal Issues)


Ardito, Stephanie C., Information Today


As a girl, I remember how upset my mother was when Richard Nixon ran against John F. Kennedy--and her relief when Kennedy was elected. In 1968 and 1972, I again heard her anger when Nixon won his first and second terms in office. She was furious with her contemporaries who seemed to have forgotten Nixon's role on the House UnAmericanActivities Committee and who ignored signs of the ensuing Watergate scandal. To understand her outrage, my mother encouraged me to read books about Sacco and Vanzetti, McCarthyism, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss, and the Hollywood Ten.

Through my reading, I became knowledgeable about the Library Awareness Program, which was the FBI's attempt to secure the circulation records of suspicious individuals. As early as 1973, I discovered ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom. To this day I continue to admire that group's diligence and bravery in standing up to government surveillance tactics.

New Measures

Now we face the Bush administration's attempts to re-create an era of spying on and tracking individuals. Despite the need for Homeland Security measures, I can't help but feel apprehensive about what the future holds and how our industry will confront privacy invasions.

Last month, my co-columnist George H. Pike provided an overview of the USA PATRIOT Act. Since his report, nearly all major newspapers have published articles and editorials detailing a range of government initiatives that threaten our civil liberties. For example, Attorney General John Ashcroft tried to fund the Terrorism Information and Prevention System (officially known as Operation TIPS, but referred to by the opposition as "Operation Snitch" and the "national snooping network"). The program would have used the public as informants to report anyone suspected of terrorist activity. Fortunately, Ashcroft was pressured to drop his idea by the very public he hoped to employ.

Separately, the Pentagon pursued and then rejected a proposal to tag Internet data with unique personal identifiers. "The technology would have divided the Internet into secure 'public network highways,' where a computer user would have ... to be identified, and 'private network alleyways,' which would not have required identification" (John Markoff, "Threats and Responses: Surveillance," The New York Times, November 22, 2002). This Electronic DNA (eDNA) program was abandoned, but not because of privacy issues. Too much research was required and the costs were too high to create electronic signatures from fingerprints and/or voice identifiers.

Total Information Awareness

One program that is very much alive is the Total Information Awareness (TIA) System (http://www.darpa.milliao/TIA Systems.htm). Many of us first read about TIA in William Safire's column "You Are a Suspect" (The New York Times, November 14, 2002). Safire surprised us with his uneasiness about TIA, as he is a well-known conservative and Bush supporter.

It's my opinion that TIA is simply a rebirth of the Library Awareness Program (run by the FBI in the 1980s). Although the name has been updated to reflect modern technology, in essence, the agenda remains the same. TIA is the brainchild of John Poindexter, the former national security advisor under Ronald Reagan. In addition to Poindexter, the key driver behind TIA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), long regarded as a respected organization and a major developer of the Internet.

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