ACLU Applauds Senate Efforts To Put a Hold On Total Information Awareness

January 16, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded Sen. Russell Feingold’s (D-WI) for moving to prohibit the cyber-snooping program known as Total Information Awareness.

“”Public concern and anger about John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness program is beginning to build,”” said Katie Corrigan, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”By acting swiftly, Congress can stop a program that if allowed to continue will inevitably lead to intrusive and unnecessary government surveillance of American households.””

Sen. Feingold announced his intention to introduce legislation putting a hold on the program at a news conference this morning.

And earlier this week, a left-right coalition including some of the Capital’s leading conservative organizations joined with the ACLU in sending a letter to key Congressional committee chairs outlining steps that Congress should take to at the very minimum put a leash on the Total Information Awareness program. Signatories to the letter included the ACLU, the Free Congress Foundation, American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Eagle Forum, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Total Information Awareness entered the media spotlight late last year after revelations that the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was developing the infrastructure for the largest and most intrusive electronic surveillance system in history.

The project, led by John Poindexter – the highest ranking Reagan administration official implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal – would lay the groundwork for a massive database of private sector and government information, which would be capable of producing a detailed cyber-snapshot of every American’s daily life.

The database would – by the Pentagon’s own admission – expand domestic intelligence activities to include the monitoring of so-called “”non-traditional data sources,”” including such sensitive information as credit card transactions, hotel reservations or even prescription medication receipts. The system would then use data-mining technology to supposedly detect obscure behavioral patterns suggesting future terrorist activity. While the jury is still out on whether the crystal-ball vision of Total Information Awareness is even feasible, it is clear that the system would be, by definition, out of step with American expectations of privacy, the ACLU said.

The Pentagon is also aware of deep public concern. Last year, it unceremoniously revamped the Total Information Awareness’ logo and motto. Initially, the program’s logo depicted the all-seeing eye pyramid – famously seen on the one-dollar bill – shooting a beam of light out over the entire globe. The pyramid graphic was married to the motto Scientia Est Potentia, Latin for “”Knowledge is Power.””

A new ACLU report on threats to privacy can be found at:

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