Advisory Committee on Total Information Awareness Surveillance System Holds Rare Public Hearing

June 19, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today told a committee of outside advisors on the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness surveillance system that the program should be shut down and said that recent alterations of the spy program’s public profile, such as changing its name to “Terrorism Information Awareness,” are little more than cosmetic.

“The Pentagon’s recent push to tone down the Orwellian overtones of this highly troubling program is nothing but spin,” said Jay Stanley, Communications Director for the ACLU Technology and Liberty Project, who testified today. “Don’t be fooled – this program would dramatically undercut our privacy and civil liberties. We are confident that the members of this committee will reach the same conclusion.”

Advocates ranging in political persuasion from the Eagle Forum and the American Conservative Union to the ACLU have roundly criticized the system, which is intended to allow federal agencies to divine terrorism before it happens by mining the electronic records of Americans’ credit card purchases, medical, educational and financial transactions, travel itineraries and other daily behavior.

The advisory board in question was created by the Pentagon earlier this year in response to growing concern among advocacy groups and the general public that the Total Information Awareness system would sweep in innocent Americans while failing to catch actual terrorists.

Late last month, in order to comply with oversight legislation passed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Pentagon released a report detailing the privacy and civil liberties threats posed by the much-maligned system. In its own report, released several days before the Wyden amendment’s deadline, the ACLU spelled out the plethora of ongoing concerns about the program that must be addressed by the Department of Defense before Congress can make an informed decision about whether to let the system go forward. Stanley reiterated these today, asking:

  • How can Americans remain free when their every transaction is subject to government scrutiny?
  • How the system will be effective in the face of what, by most accounts, will be a crippling false-positive rate?
  • How the bedrock American principle of “individualized suspicion” will be maintained in the face of a system designed to guess about who might be a suspect?
  • How the TIA’s mission might grow given the tendency for such programs to expand once they are established?

The ACLU’s testimony can be found at:

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