ACLU Applauds Major Victory For Privacy Rights In Fight Against Spy Program Formerly Known As Total Information Awareness

July 18, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – In response to yesterday’s unanimous vote in the Senate to deny funding for the domestic cyber-surveillance system previously known as “Total Information Awareness,” the American Civil Liberties Union today called on Congress to stand up to President Bush to block the Pentagon’s program that would indiscriminately track the daily activities of Americans and falsely identify thousands of innocent citizens as potential terrorists.

“This is a roundly unpopular program with a mission far outside what most Americans would consider acceptable in our democracy,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Liberty and Technology Program. “By its very nature, TIA would – regardless of any checks and balances – invade our privacy. Our daily lives would be minutely and accurately inventoried, even though we’d done nothing wrong.”

The provision blocking funding for the Terrorism Information Awareness program at the Pentagon, formerly known as Total Information Awareness, or TIA, was included in the Senate version of a military spending bill currently being considered in Congress. The Senate version goes farther than its counterpart in the House – which only restricted TIA’s use against American citizens – and says that any funds appropriated cannot be “obligated or expended on research and development on the Terrorism Awareness System.”

The cosmetically revamped program, which in addition to its old Orwellian name sported a logo featuring an all-seeing eye casting its gaze out over the globe, would use “data-mining” technology to sift through vast amounts of personal “transactional” data in the untested hope of discerning obscure patterns that suggest terrorist activity is intended or ongoing. Examples of the information to be catalogued and scrutinized include credit card purchases, travel records, financial statements and even Internet surfing.

“Make no mistake, the Pentagon can’t erase history by changing a name – it’s the same program and contains the same pitfalls,” Steinhardt said. “Luckily the Senate historically stood up to the Administration and Pentagon and said ‘no’ to a surveillance society.”

Opposition to the program has been unusually broad ideologically. Groups as disparate as the American Conservative Union and the ACLU have advocated against the system’s development.

Notably, the unanimous vote in the Senate yesterday came despite the Bush Administration’s active support for the program and the Pentagon’s aggressive lobbying on behalf of TIA. In fact, the language agreed to in the Senate is even more forceful than a measure sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) last winter that prohibited the program’s use on American soil and halted its development until the Pentagon reported on its threat to privacy.

“Terrorism Information Awareness, as it’s now called, seeks to catch bad guys by spying on law-abiding Americans, making it ineffective and inherently offensive to civil liberties,” Steinhardt added. “Those lawmakers who sought to shut it down yesterday deserve applause for supporting Americans’ right to privacy.”

More on Terrorism Information Awareness can be found at:

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