ACLU, Right-Left Coalition Call on Congress to Stop Development of Total Information Awareness Program

January 14, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Responding to mounting privacy concerns in the new Congress and among the general public, the American Civil Liberties Union and a broad coalition of both right and left-leaning organizations today called on Congress to stop development of the controversial Total Information Awareness surveillance system at the Pentagon.

“Congress must realize that John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness system is unpopular not just in the abstract,” said Katie Corrigan, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The average citizen is well aware of the disastrous impact of intrusive government surveillance on American communities, families and, indeed, democracy.”

The ACLU’s concerns were expressed today in a coalition letter highlighting affirmative steps that Congress should take in the New Year to at the very least put an early leash on Total Information Awareness. Signatories to the letter included the ACLU, the Free Congress Foundation, the Eagle Forum, the American Conservative Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Addressees included the House and Senate Judiciary and Armed Services Committees, both chamber’s Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and the newly established House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

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.

Testament to the unpopularity of this program was the unceremonious revamping of Total Information Awareness’ logo and motto late last year. 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.”

The coalition letter can be found at:

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