ACLU Calls on President Bush to Disavow New Cyber-Spying Scheme That Seeks to Put Every American Under Scrutiny

November 14, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today called on President Bush to disavow a new system being developed at the Pentagon that would be able to track every American’s activities.

“Smile, you’re on virtual candid camera,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “If the Pentagon has its way, every American – from the Nebraskan farmer to the Wall Street banker – will find themselves under the accusatory cyber-stare of an all-powerful national security apparatus.”

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing the system, which it has dubbed “Total Information Awareness,” in its Information Awareness Office. That office is directed by former Reagan Administration official John Poindexter, who once said that it was his duty as the national security advisor to withhold information from Congress.

The Total Information Awareness program will be — by Poindexter’s own public admission — the infrastructure for what the government hopes will be the most extensive electronic surveillance system in history. That vision is encapsulated in the logo for Poindexter’s office: the all-seeing eye and pyramid (prominent also on the one dollar bill) spying from above on the entire world. The office’s motto is Scientia Est Potentia, Latin for “Knowledge is Power.”

The ACLU concerns are somewhat similar to those expressed today by “card-carrying conservative” New York Times columnist William Safire that the program is a “supersnoop’s dream.”

The Total Information Awareness program would use the technology called data-mining – which is totally untested in the national security context — to ostensibly detect terrorist threats before they occur. Data-mining, currently used by private industry to track buying habits and target telemarketers, among other things, involves the computerized scrutiny of vast amounts of unrelated information in the hope of finding patterns that can predict future behavior.

But the Total Information Awareness program goes further than any corporate cyber-snooping: it would link a huge number of commercial and governmental databases, both in America and overseas. These databases could presumably range from student grades to mental health histories to travel records.

“Just as he scaled back the program that would have had neighbors spying on neighbors, President Bush must stop the Total Information Awareness program now,” said Katie Corrigan, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “And if he refuses to act, Congress should step in quickly and pull the plug on this dangerous idea.”

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