Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Total Information Awareness 

The New York Times John Markoff reports today that the software pioneer, Mitchell D. Kapor, has resigned from the board of Groove Networks after learning "the company's software is being used by the Pentagon as part of its development of a domestic surveillance system."

Kapor is described in the article as a personal computer industry software pioneer and a civil liberties activist. Groove Networks just received $38 million to finance the development of the domestic surveillance system, called the Total Information Awareness.

Markoff states that according to close friends, Kapor was uncomfortable with software that he helped to develop being used as a "crucial component of the antiterrorist surveillance software being tested at the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's Information Awareness Office, an office directed by Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter."

Poindexter, if you remember, was the national security advisor for President Ronald Reagan. He was convicted in his role as part of the Iran-Contra scandal, then pardoned by a Congressional grant of immunity.

" The project has been trying to build a prototype computer system that would permit the scanning of hundreds or thousands of databases to look for information patterns that might alert the authorities to the activities of potential terrorists.

Civil liberties activists have argued that such a system, if deployed, could easily be misused in ways that would undercut traditional American privacy values.

On Feb. 11, House and Senate negotiators agreed that the Total Information Awareness project could not be used against Americans. Congress also agreed to restrict additional research on the program without extensive consultation with Congress.

Congressional negotiators gave the Defense Department 90 days to provide a report to Congress detailing its costs, impact on privacy and civil liberties and likelihood of success against terrorists. All further research on the project would have to stop immediately if the report is not filed by the deadline."

Why am I not reassured by the internal checks established for this legislation? Because of this:
'But President Bush can keep the research alive by certifying to Congress that a halt "would endanger the national security of the United States." '

You can just about count on this research continuing.