ACLU Says Independent Total Information Awareness Advisory Group Compliments, But Must Not Replace, Congressional Scrutiny

February 7, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today said that a newly announced independent advisory group, which the Pentagon said will oversee development of the Total Information Awareness system, is a good compliment to Congressional scrutiny, but it should not serve as a substitute for action on Capitol Hill.

“The Pentagon should have established an advisory group for Total Information Awareness a long time ago,” said Katie Corrigan, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Congress should not assume, however, that its input and scrutiny is now unnecessary. A proposed domestic surveillance program of this scope must be vetted through our elected officials.”

The Pentagon announced at a news conference today the creation of an independent, civilian advisory committee that would be responsible for gauging the program’s impact on privacy and civil liberties.

While supportive of the advisory group, the ACLU warned against substituting the advisory committee for Congressional action. “Congress has not authorized the Total Information Awareness program and it should not go forward until the principles and details have been thoroughly examined by the Congress and the program has been explicitly authorized,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty program.

Scrutiny of the plan on Capitol Hill, most notably by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Russell Feingold (D-WI), must be allowed to proceed, the ACLU said, given the dangerous potential of Total Information Awareness, which would be, when operational, the most extensive electronic surveillance network in history.

Earlier this week, Sen. Wyden participated in a telephone news conference in which he pledged to fight any system that would similarly allow for the investigation of law-abiding Americans. Also on the call were Barbara Simons, head of the Association for Computing Machinery’s policy arm and a critic of Total Information Awareness, and representatives of a broad right-left coalition opposed to the Pentagon program.

Members of the coalition include the ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Eagle Forum, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Free Congress Foundation and People for the American Way.

Opposition from conservative groups has been intensifying in recent weeks. The Eagle Forum’s Lori Waters was quoted in a front-page Washington Times story reporting on the tele-conference call as saying, “It is doubtful Republicans will jump up and support TIA and track law-abiding citizens. They know it would jeopardize their own re-election.”

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