The Pentagon appears to have hired some spin doctors to try and convince Congress that it’s Total Information Awareness system it’s been developing was only meant to be used on bad guys. In a rather pathetic attempt to smooth the furrowed brows of the nation’s leaders they’ve changed the name of the program to the Terrorism Information Awareness program. Other than the change in name, though, little else has been modified. In other words, same pile of shit with a new name.
While the name changed, the description of the program being developed remained essentially the same. DARPA did, however, emphasize that it has let contracts to enhance privacy and security protections for personal data analyzed by U.S. agents who might ultimately use the software tools that are being tested or are under development.
During research and testing, DARPA is “only using data and information that is either foreign intelligence and counter intelligence information legally obtained and usable by the federal government or wholly synthetic (artificial) data that has been generated, for research purposes only, to resemble … real-world patterns of behavior.”
A coalition of eight advocacy groups that spanned the political spectrum from left to right criticized the report for leaving questions unanswered, particularly about how the system would deal with errors in the databases it searches. They called on Congress to continue strict scrutiny of the project.
“The government can’t expect us to forget everything they’ve said before about this program just by changing its name,” said Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union. He said the name switch was reminiscent of George Orwell’s novel, “1984,” about a totalitarian government.
“Still no one has addressed the issue of data quality,” said Lisa Dean of the Free Congress Foundation. “If TIA is relying on personal information contained in databases to determine whether someone is a suspect, what recourse does the person have whose information has been entered incorrectly?”
Also gone is the “All-Seeing Eye” logo the program previously had adopted. The Pentagon seems to be cynically assuming that a name and logo change combined with a little spin-doctoring (Oh no, what we really meant was…) will be enough to fool Congress to allow TIA to become a reality. Sad part is it’ll probably work on a few politicians.