Total "Terrorism" Information Awareness (TIA)

Top News

  • Department of Homeland Security Exempts Massive Database from Privacy Act: The Department of Homeland Security issued a final rule exempting its Operations System from various Privacy Act safeguards, including provisions that permit individuals to access information about them held by the agency. The system "fuses" information from many sources which the agency uses for investigatory purposes. There are over twenty categories of data, including social security numbers, citizenship, medical records, and even information gathered from social media in the database. In 2010, EPIC urged the agency not to reduce the privacy protections for the Operations System, citing the substantial risks. Despite EPIC's recommendations, DHS went forward. For more information, see EPIC: Total Information Awareness and EPIC: EPIC v. DHS: Media Monitoring. (Jun. 8, 2012)
  • Director of National Intelligence Gains New Powers, Expands Datamining of US Citizens: Under revised guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center, the intelligence agency officials will be able to profile and track American citizens, suspected of no crime, for up to five years. The change represents a dramatic expansion of government surveillance and appears to violate the Privacy Act of 1974, which limits data exchanges across federal agencies and establishes legal rights for US citizens. In 2003, Congress put an end to a similar program. For more information, see EPIC - Total Information Awareness. (Mar. 23, 2012)
  • More top news

  • EPIC Urges Scrutiny of Proposed Federal Profiling Agency. In a letter (pdf) to a House subcommittee, EPIC urged careful scrutiny of the Department of Homeland Security's proposed Office of Screening Coordination and Operations. This office would oversee vast databases of digital fingerprints and photographs, eye scans and personal information from millions of American citizens and lawful foreign visitors. Homeland Security has announced that the office's operations would be conducted in a manner that safeguards civil liberties, but the agency has not yet explained how it proposes to protect privacy rights or ensure accountability. For more information, visit EPIC's U.S. Domestic Spending on Surveillance Page. (Mar. 1, 2005)
  • Docs Show Meetings Between Clark, Poindexter. New documents (pdf) show that General Wesley Clark, a lobbyist for commercial data company Acxiom, met with former Total Information Awareness developer, Admiral John Poindexter in May and June 2002. Previously obtained documents from the same time period indicate that Acxiom was considered as a source of personal information for a government "mega-scale database." For more information, see the EPIC Total Information Awareness Page. (Sept. 13, 2004)
  • Study Finds Extensive Data Mining in Federal Agencies. The General Accounting Office has issued a report (pdf) that identifies almost 200 data mining projects throughout the federal government that are either operational or in the planning stage. Many of them make use of personally identifiable data obtained from private sector databases. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who requested the study, released a statement and said, "It is time that we review agency practices and existing law to ensure that the privacy rights of individuals are not violated through the development of new technology." (May 27, 2004)
  • Committee Calls for Data Mining Privacy Protections. The Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee has issued a report (3.5 MB pdf) recommending that Congress pass laws to protect civil liberties when the government sifts through computer databases containing personal information. The committee, established to review the Defense Department data mining initiatives after the Total Information Awareness fiasco, also proposed that federal agencies be required to obtain authorization from a special federal court "before engaging in data mining with personally identifiable information concerning U.S. persons." For more information, see the EPIC Total Information Awareness Page. (May 17, 2004)
  • DARPA Discussed Acxiom As TIA Data Source. A document (pdf) obtained by EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act shows internal communications among Defense Advanced Research Project Agency employees considering data broker Acxiom as a supplier of personal information for Total Information Awareness. A senior Acxiom official offered to help the agency with TIA, and suggested methods to avoid public scrutiny of the transfer of data from the company to the government. For more information, see the EPIC TIA Page. (Feb. 5, 2004)
  • EPIC Year in Review. EPIC's survey of the 2003 Privacy Year in Review notes the collapse of Total Information Awareness, surveillance cameras in schools, a Supreme Court victory for privacy, legal battles over the Do Not Call list, busted luggage locks, anti-terrorism laws used for routine criminal investigations, and a conservative radio commentator asking for privacy. (Dec. 31, 2003)

Introduction

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.

News Items

FOIA Documents

Documents obtained by EPIC through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
  • Letters to contractors approving/rejecting funding for TIA projects, including names of companies and proposal titles. Available for download in four parts: EPIC has also made available an analysis of these documents, as well as a table of approved contractors.
  • "Security with Privacy" (PDF, 840K). Defense Department study, released in December 2002.
  • Document showing internal communications among Defense Advanced Research Project Agency employees considering data broker Acxiom as a supplier of personal information for Total Information Awareness. A senior Acxiom official offered to help the agency with TIA, and suggested methods to avoid public scrutiny of the transfer of data from the company to the government.
  • Documents showing that General Wesley Clark, a lobbyist for commercial data company Acxiom, met with former Total Information Awareness developer, Admiral John Poindexter in May and June 2002.

Resources

Previous News

  • Report Criticizes Total Information Awareness. The Department of Defense's inspector general has released a report (pdf) criticizing the agency's lack of consideration of privacy concerns when developing the Total Information Awareness system.  The report states that the lack of a formal assessment on the privacy implications for U.S. citizens meant the Pentagon "risks spending funds to develop systems that may be neither deployable nor used to their fullest potential without costly revisions and retrofits."  For more information, see EPIC's Total Information Awareness page. (Dec. 31, 2003)
  • Congress Kills Total Info Awareness Project. Congress has eliminated funding for the controversial Total Information Awareness (TIA) project and closed the Pentagon's Information Awareness Office, the entity that housed TIA and was formerly headed by Adm. John Poindexter. 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. See EPIC's Total Information Awareness Page for more information. (Sept. 26, 2003)
  • Poindexter's Recent Op-Ed Reflects Inconsistencies in Statements regarding Total Information Awareness (TIA). On Sept. 10 John Poindexter, the former director of the Information Awareness Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, published an Op-Ed in the New York Times regarding the Total Information Awareness program. Poindexter's statement--and the Department of Defense's latest characterization of TIA in general--is inconsistent with earlier statements regarding the purpose and capabilities of the program. (Sept. 10, 2003)

  • Poindexter Resigns But Defends "Total Info" Plan. In a letter (pdf) to the Director of the Pentagon's research agency, retired Admiral John Poindexter has formalized his resignation as head of the Information Awareness Office. He defends the controversial Total Information Awareness program and cites the Privacy with Security (pdf) study as an example of his office's efforts to "protect the privacy of innocent people." That study was first released as a result of an FOIA lawsuit filed by EPIC. See EPIC's Total Awareness Page for background information. (Aug. 14, 2003)

  • Senate Nixes Domestic Spy Plan. The United States Senate has voted unanimously to block funding for the Total Information Awareness program. According to the Defense Department appropriations, no funding "may be obligated or expended on research and development on the Terrorism Information Awareness program." The Administration lobbied to keep the funding intact. See the EPIC Total Information Awareness Page. (Jul. 18, 2003)
  • Name Changed. Problem Solved. The Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has released a report on the "Terrorism" Information Awareness Program. The name change is intended to address concerns that a massive program of public surveillance may raise privacy concerns. An Executive Summary and a FAQ is also available. (May 20, 2003)
  • Info Awareness Report Due. The Department Defense research agency is expected to submit a report to Congress today on the Total Information Awareness program. In February Congress suspended funding for the surveillance program and required the Defense Department to describe the project's privacy implications. An EPIC lawsuit has produced contractor documents that reveal key projects on monitoring and tracking individuals in the United States.(May 20, 2003)
  • EPIC Obtains More Info on Total Info Awareness. An EPIC lawsuit (pdf) has resulted in the release of additional documents about Total Information Awareness. The most recent disclosures provide more details on specific projects, including deliverables and timelines. For more information, see the updated table of contractors. (April 4, 2003)
  • EPIC Obtains Contractor Documents for Defense Dept. Domestic Surveillance Project. A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit [PDF] pursued by EPIC has led to the disclosure of 180 pages detailing the projects that were funded and rejected by the Office of Information Awareness, headed by John Poindexter. The documents, which include the names of companies seeking Total Information Awareness (TIA) funding, as well as proposal titles, are available for download in four parts: [Part 1: PDF, 728KB] [Part 2: PDF, 872KB] [Part 3: PDF, 688KB] [Part 4: PDF, 476KB]. See EPIC's analysis of the documents and table of contractors. (Feb. 27, 2003)
  • The final text of the Congressional action on the Total Information Awareness project was signed into law by the President. The text extends the deadline for the Defense Department report to 90 days and restricts the implementation of the program on U.S. persons only. (Feb. 20, 2003)
  • Senate Limits Total Information Awareness System. Senators led by Ron Wyden (D-OR) accepted Amendment 59 to a spending bill that will suspend the development of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) system. Funding for development of TIA will end 60 days after the passage of the bill unless the intelligence community submits a detailed report to Congress on the privacy and civil liberties implications of the system. The amendment further requires Congressional authorization before TIA is deployed by any agency. However, exceptions in the amendment allow President Bush to approve continued funding for TIA, and the use of TIA for military operations outside the United States. (Jan. 24, 2003)
  • Computer Scientists Criticize TIA. The US Association for Computing Machinery, a group of computer scientists and information technology professionals, wrote to the Senate Armed Services committee about TIA. The letter details the privacy and security risks inherent in the Total Information Awareness architecture and questions the technical feasibility of the vision. (Jan. 23, 2003)
  • New DoD-FBI links Exposed. In a preliminary response to Senator Grassley's (R-IA) letter seeking additional information about TIA, the Defense Department acknowledged that it was possibly developing a MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the FBI to experiment with TIA technology. Senator Grassley then wrote to Attorney General Ashcroft seeking additional information about potential links between the FBI and TIA. Senator Grassley has also introduced SA53, an amendment that limits the funding of TIA for domestic intelligence purposes, into the appropriations bill. (Jan. 21, 2003)
  • Senator Feingold introduces Data-mining Moratorium Act. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced S. 188, the Data-mining Moratorium Act, which would limit the use of data mining technology by the Defense department and by the new Department of Homeland Security without Congressional approval and appropriate civil liberties protections. (Jan. 16, 2003)
  • Senator Harkin Calls for Hearings on TIA. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) sent a letter to Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), requesting that hearings be held on TIA and Admiral Poindexter's role in developing the project. He called on Poindexter to testify before Congress. (Jan. 13, 2003)
  • Senators Pose Data Mining Questions to Ashcroft. In a seven-page letter (PDF) to Attorney General John Ashcroft, three members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have asked for detailed information on "current 'data mining' operations, practices and policies at the Department of Justice." The request includes information concerning DOJ involvement in the controversial Total Information Awareness project at the Defense Department. For examples of the types of information available to the government in private sector databases, see EPIC's Public Records and Privacy and Profiling and Privacy pages. (Jan. 13, 2003)
  • Pentagon Makes Incomplete Response to TIA FOIA Request. After EPIC filed suit (PDF) challenging its failure to release documents about the controversial "Total Information Awareness" program, the Defense Department has provided one document – a study titled "Security with Privacy" (PDF, 840K). The study recommends more DoD research on privacy, but does not address policy issues and states that it is "not a review of Total Information Awareness." (Dec. 19, 2002)
  • Sen. Schumer Urges Rumsfeld to Find Replacement for Poindexter. The New York Daily News reports that Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has written to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asking him to find a replacement for Admiral John Poindexter, who currently heads the Total Information Awareness program. "If we need a big brother, John Poindexter is the last guy on the list that I would choose," said Senator Schumer on ABC's This Week. (Nov. 26, 2002)
  • EPIC Holds Briefing on Total Information Awareness. EPIC held a briefing at the National Press Club today on Total Information Awareness and the civil liberties implications of the Homeland Security Act. Speakers included EPIC's Executive Director Marc Rotenberg and General Counsel David Sobel; Katie Corrigan, ACLU; and Steven Aftergood, Federation of American Scientists. For more information, see the briefing materials. (Nov. 25, 2002)
  • Total Cost of TIA: $240 Million in FY 2001-2003. Contrary to a statement of a Defense Department spokesperson that the TIA budget is $10 million, DARPA documents show that it is $240 million for fiscal years 2001-2003. The TIA system, in fact, consists of several related programs unaccounted for by the official. The budget states that: "The primary goal of TIA is the assured transition of a system-level prototype that integrates technology and components developed in other DARPA programs including Genoa, Genoa-II, TIDES, Genisys, EELD, WAE, HID, and Bio-Surveillance." (p. 273). (Nov. 25, 2002)
  • Rep. Armey: Homeland Security Bill Does not Authorize TIA. Communications Daily reports that Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) said that the Homeland Security Bill "…does not authorize, fund or move into the department anything like it (Total Information Awareness)." He further stated that the use of data mining tools in the bill are "…intended solely to authorize the use of advanced techniques to sift through existing intelligence data, not to open a new method of intruding lawful, everyday transactions of American citizens." (Nov. 25, 2002)
  • Sen. Grassley Calls for Inspector General to Review TIA. The Boston Globe reports that Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) has instructed the Inspector General of the Defense Department to review the TIA system. In a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, Grassley wrote "I am at a loss to understand why DoD resources are being spent on research for domestic law enforcement." (Nov. 22, 2002)
  • DARPA Ends Consideration of eDNA Project. The New York Times reports that DARPA considered but decided not to pursue a plan to uniquely identify Web users through tying their communications to biometric identifiers. The eDNA proposal read: "We envisage that all network and client resources will maintain traces of user eDNA so that the user can be uniquely identified as having visited a Web site, having started a process or having sent a packet." (Nov. 22, 2002)
  • EPIC Requests DARPA Documents on TIA. EPIC filed an expedited FOIA request today seeking DARPA records on what modifications TIA might make to any existing legal, statutory and regulatory frameworks concerning governmental access to and use of transactional and other records about individuals. The request also sought records concerning the potential privacy and civil liberties implications of the activities proposed for the TIA project. (Nov. 21, 2002)
  • Sen. Feinstein Calls for Legislation to Protect Against TIA. The San Jose Mercury News reports that Senator Feinstein (D-CA) plans to introduce legislation to ensure that the Total Information Awareness project does not infringe on the privacy rights of Americans. "This is a panoply, which isn't carefully conscribed and controlled, for a George Orwell America,'' Feinstein told the Mercury News. "And I don't think the American people are ready for that by a long shot." (Nov. 20, 2002)
  • Senator Lieberman Limits Homeland Security Department Development of TIA. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) inserted an explanatory paragraph into the Congressional Record with passage of the Homeland Security Act that limits the new Department of Homeland Security from adopting or replicating TIA. The statement reads: "Nothing in this legislation should be construed as requiring or encouraging HSARPA (Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency) to adopt or replicate any specific programs within DARPA, such as the Total Information Awareness Program, or as conferring HSARPA with any additional authority to overcome privacy laws when developing technologies for information-collection." Cong. Rec. S11412 (2002). (Nov. 19, 2002)
  • Sen. Nelson Questions TIA System. Senator Nelson (D-FL) issued a statement on TIA announcing that he would scrutinize the system. He said, "I have a serious concern about whether this type of program, called Total Information Awareness, can be used responsibly...I intend to advocate that Congress and the Senate Armed Services Committee vigorously oversee this program to ensure there is no abuse of law-abiding individuals' privacy." Cong. Rec. S11250 (2002). (Nov. 18, 2002)
  • Groups Urge Senate to Stop Total Information Awareness. In an open letter over 30 civil liberties groups urged Senators Thomas Daschle (D-SD) and Trent Lott (R-MS) to amend the Homeland Security Act to stop further development of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program. (Nov. 18, 2002)
  • Leading Newspapers Blast Defense Dept. Surveillance Project. Newspapers across the country are opposing the Department of Defense's Total Information Awareness (TIA) project. The New York Times said today that "Congress should shut down the program pending a thorough investigation." Earlier the Washington Post wrote "the defense secretary should appoint an outside committee to oversee it before it proceeds." For more information, see EPIC's TIA Page. (Nov. 18, 2002)
  • New Total Information Awareness Details. EPIC has obtained the system description (PDF, 4.5 MB) for the Total Information Awareness (TIA) Program. The document describes an elaborate system of human identification and surveillance. EPIC is pursuing a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Defense to obtain further information about the TIA Program. (Nov. 15, 2002)
  • Poindexter's History Includes Attempt to Centralize Computer Control at NSA. As National Security Adviser, Admiral Poindexter was involved with a controversial Reagan administration initiative in 1984 known as National Security Decision Directive, NSDD 145. NSDD-145 gave the National Security Agency (NSA) control over security for all government computer systems containing "sensitive but unclassified" information. This was followed by a second directive issued by Poindexter that extended military authority over all computer and communications security for the federal government and private industry. The Computer Security Act, passed by Congress in 1987, reestablished authority for computer security policy at the National Institute for Standards & Technology. For more information see EPIC's Computer Security Act page.
  • DARPA Plans "Total Information Awareness." The New York Times reports that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a tracking system called "Total Information Awareness" (TIA), that claims to detect terrorists through analyzing troves of information. The system, being developed by John Poindexter, the director of DARPA's Information Awareness Office, is envisioned to give law enforcement access to private data without suspicion of wrongdoing or a warrant. For more information, see DARPA's TIA Page, and the EPIC Profiling Page. (Nov. 12, 2002)

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Communications Law and Policy
Jerry Kang and Alan Butler