ACLU Technology Expert Tells Congress to Watch the Watchers

May 20, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Testifying before a House subcommittee this morning, the American Civil Liberties Union’s chief technology expert said that stronger legal protections are required to stem the tide of new surveillance measures that threaten civil liberties while doing little to increase national security.

The ACLU’s testimony can be found at:

The press release on the right-left response to the DARPA Report can be found at:

The ACLU’s report on the TIA Program can be found at:

The press release on the ACLU’s report can be found at:

The ACLU feature on the TIA program can be found at:

“”For more than a decade now, technological capability has been increasing at a rate far greater than our ability to legally curb its ability to infringe on our privacy rights and civil liberties,”” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU Technology and Liberty Project. “”Instead of rationally addressing the invasive potential of hi-tech spying tools, however, we have weakened the legal constraints that keep them in check.””

Steinhardt spoke this morning in front of the Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee.

Committee members discussed a technique known as “”data-mining,”” which is increasingly gaining in popularity as a surveillance tool. Data mining is a central issue in debates over the highly controversial Total Information Awareness cyber-surveillance system in development at the Pentagon and the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System, popularly known as CAPPS II, under development by the Transportation Security Administration.

Both programs have strong and public detractors on both the right and left wings of the political spectrum. Total Information Awareness has been called a “”super-snoop’s dream”” by conservative columnist William Safire and CAPPS II has been derided as likely ineffective and suppressive of liberties by advocates as politically diverse as the American Conservative Union and the ACLU.

Steinhardt included reproductions in his testimony of the Pentagon’s original vision of TIA, which was posted on the Department of Defense’s website until a firestorm of criticism apparently prompted its removal. Although the Pentagon has offered frequent assurances that TIA would not be used to actively spy on Americans, the reprinted chart lists financial, education, travel, medical, housing, and other types of records as data targeted for monitoring. The Pentagon is expected to also release a report today, mandated by recently by Congress, assessing the likely danger that TIA would pose to privacy, as well as how effective it is likely to be.

Steinhardt urged further Congressional oversight of these emerging technologies, citing anecdotal reports of peace activists being kept off airplanes because of a mysterious no-fly blacklist, reports that would no doubt increase rapidly if data-mining was widely implemented as a surveillance tool. “”With a dragnet approach like TIA or CAPPS II, you dramatically increase the chances of innocent people being labeled as terrorists,”” Steinhardt said. “”Laws need to be in place to prevent loyal and law-abiding Americans from having their lives ruined by impersonal and imprecise surveillance techniques.””

The ACLU’s testimony can be found at:

The ACLU’s report on the TIA Program can be found at:

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