Sharon Weinberger 03.22.07 | 12:00 PM
Nearly four years after Congress pulled the plug on what critics assailed as an Orwellian scheme to spy on private citizens, Singapore is set to launch an even more ambitious incarnation of the Pentagon's controversial Total Information Awareness program -- an effort to collect and mine data across all government agencies in the hopes of pinpointing threats to national security.
The Singapore prototype of the system -- dubbed Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning, or RAHS -- was rolled out early this week at a conference in the Southeast Asia city-state. Retired U.S. Adm. John Poindexter, the architect of the original Pentagon program, traveled to Singapore to deliver a speech at the unveiling, while backers have already begun quietly touting the system to U.S. intelligence officials.
In 2003, plans for Total Information Awareness, or TIA, sparked outrage among privacy advocates. TIA was one of several programs run out of the Information Awareness Office at Darpa, the Pentagon's advanced research projects agency. Fueling public indignation was news that Poindexter, President Reagan's national security adviser and a key figure in the '80s Iran-Contra scandal, was in charge of the office.
Facing an avalanche of bad publicity, Poindexter resigned in August 2003. Congress pulled funding for the program, and TIA and related programs were either terminated or moved to other agencies. The Information Awareness Office was closed.
But Poindexter's vision never lost currency among advocates of data mining, particularly in Singapore, a country that mixes elements of democratic governance with authoritarian rule.
Beware of Total Information Awareness
John Poindexter, head of the Pentagon's Office of Information Awareness, is developing a vast surveillance database to track terror suspects. The Total Information Awareness (TIA) system will, according to Poindexter, "break down the stovepipes" that separate commercial and government databases, allowing OIA access to citizens' credit card purchases, travel itineraries, telephone calling records, email, medical histories and financial information. It would give government the power to generate a comprehensive data profile on any U.S. citizen.
A Spy Machine of DARPA's Dreams
It's a memory aid! A robotic assistant! An epidemic detector! An all-seeing, ultra-intrusive spying program!
The Pentagon is about to embark on a stunningly ambitious research project designed to gather every conceivable bit of information about a person's life, index all the information and make it searchable.
What national security experts and civil libertarians want to know is, why would the Defense Department want to do such a thing?
The embryonic LifeLog program would dump everything an individual does into a giant database: every e-mail sent or received, every picture taken, every Web page surfed, every phone call made, every TV show watched, every magazine read.
Total Information Awareness Lives On Inside the National Security Agency
"Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend -- all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as 'a virtual, centralized grand database.'
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