Congress Dismantles Total Information Awareness Spy Program; ACLU Applauds Victory, Calls for Continued Vigilance Against Snoop Programs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - The Senate today passed legislation that would dismantle the cyber-surveillance program previously called ""Total Information Awareness."" The American Civil Liberties Union hailed the victory and said President Bush should acquiesce to overwhelmingly public concern about privacy rights and allow the program to die.
""Congress has today reaffirmed the fundamental privacy rights of all Americans,"" said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. ""This is a resounding victory for individual liberty.""
Last year, Congress adopted strict restrictions on the use of the TIA technology. This year, responding to continuing public concerns about the program, the final version of the Department of Defense Appropriations bill contained a provision that ended it completely. Under the legislation, TIA -- which had been housed in the Pentagon -- would be shut down and the government forbidden from using the technology envisioned by TIA in any other successor program.
The bill, however, does authorize a separate, classified program for ""processing, analysis, and collaboration tools for counter terrorism foreign intelligence"" but the legislation prohibits its domestic use against Americans. ""While TIA may be dead and buried,"" Edgar added, ""we must remain on a constant lookout for other super-snoop programs.""
The House adopted the final version of the bill on Wednesday, on an overwhelming bi-partisan vote of 407-15. The Senate adopted the spending bill by a vote of 95 to 0.
Had it been implemented, the ACLU said TIA would have used data-mining technology to sift through vast amounts of personal transactional data in the unproven hope of discerning obscure patterns that would suggest terrorist activity is intended or ongoing. The ACLU said that this approach would not only violate privacy, but would make all Americans terrorism suspects as the system would have scoured credit card purchases, travel records, financial statements and even Internet viewing habits.
"This was a hugely unpopular program with a mission far outside what most Americans would consider acceptable in our democracy," Edgar added. "By its very nature, TIA would have -- regardless of any checks and balances - invaded our privacy. Our daily lives would have been minutely and accurately inventoried, even though we'd done nothing wrong."
Since its inception, TIA had been under attack from organizations across the political spectrum. The ACLU's concerns were shared by such strange bedfellows as the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Eagle Forum and the Free Congress Foundation.