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Total "Terrorism" Information Awareness (TIA)

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In November 2002, the New York Times reported that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was developing a tracking system called "Total Information Awareness" (TIA), which was intended to detect terrorists through analyzing troves of information. The system, developed under the direction of John Poindexter, then-director of DARPA's Information Awareness Office, was envisioned to give law enforcement access to private data without suspicion of wrongdoing or a warrant.

TIA purported to capture the "information signature" of people so that the government could track potential terrorists and criminals involved in "low-intensity/low-density" forms of warfare and crime. The goal was to track individuals through collecting as much information about them as possible and using computer algorithms and human analysis to detect potential activity.

The project called for the development of "revolutionary technology for ultra-large all-source information repositories," which would contain information from multiple sources to create a "virtual, centralized, grand database." This database would be populated by transaction data contained in current databases such as financial records, medical records, communication records, and travel records as well as new sources of information. Also fed into the database would be intelligence data.

A key component of the TIA project was to develop data-mining or knowledge discovery tools that would sort through the massive amounts of information to find patterns and associations. TIA would also develop search tools such as Project Genoa, which Admiral Poindexter's former employer Syntek Technologies assisted in developing. TIA aimed to fund the development of more such tools and data-mining technology to help analysts understand and even "preempt" future action.

A further crucial component was the development of biometric technology to enable the identification and tracking of individuals. DARPA had already funded its "Human ID at a Distance" program, which aimed to positively identify people from a distance through technologies such as face recognition or gait recognition. A nationwide identification system would have been of great assistance to such a project by providing an easy means to track individuals across multiple information sources.

DARPA's Broad Agency Announcement 02-08 soliciting proposals from industry stated that the initial plan was for a five year research project into these various technologies. The interim goal was to build "leave-behind prototypes with a limited number of proof-of-concept demonstrations in extremely high risk, high payoff areas."

In September 2003, Congress eliminated funding for the controversial project and closed the Pentagon's Information Awareness Office, which had developed TIA. This does not, however, necessarily signal the end of other government data-mining initiatives that are similar to TIA. Projects such as the Novel Intelligence from Massive Data within the Intelligence Community Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA) will apparently move forward. The FBI and the Transportation Security Administration are also working on data-mining projects that will fuse commercial databases, public databases, and intelligence data and had meetings with TIA developers.

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Last Updated: March 21, 2005
Page URL: http://www.epic.org/privacy/profiling/tia/default.html