Total Information Awareness

TIA became “Terrorism Information Awareness” after Total Information Awareness was condemned as sounding too Orwellian.

TIA, a $240 million program, first came to public attention in a New York Times piece by John Markoff  dated November 9, 2002.  The article reported that through Total Information Awareness, intelligence and law enforcement officials would be given “instant access to information from Internet mail and calling records to credit card and banking transactions and travel documents, without a search warrant.” TIA would not just enable the government to develop “cradle to grave dossiers” on known individuals.  It would also (in theory) have the ability to detect terrorists and their plots by subjecting massive troves of electronic information to data mining techniques.

Click here to download the TIA Systems Plan (PDF)

After TIA was publicly unmasked, it faced withering criticism all along a political spectrum.  In the words of the right-wing libertarian Cato Institute, this “power to generate a comprehensive data profile on any US citizen” involved “the specter of the East German secret police and communist Cuba’s block watch system” (G. Healy, “Beware of Total Information Awareness,” January 20, 2003).

Data mining programs that were part of DARPA’s TIA before it was de-funded by Congress have been transferred to the National Security Agency. They include:

  • Automated Detection, Identification and Tracking of Deceptive Terrorist Activity, developed by 21st Century Technologies, Inc. of Austin, Texas (USA Today, July 20, 2006). 
  • Research “into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks… it could harness advances in internet technology…to combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals” (New Scientist, June 9, 2006).
  • Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE) which would “troll a vast sea of information, including audio and visual and identify suspicious people, places, and other elements based on their links and behavioral patterns” (The Washington Post, February 28, 2007.

According to a June 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office, there were at least 199 TIA-style data mining projects funded by the government that trawled through huge amounts of information in hopes of finding links or patterns to locate suspicious activity.

On January 20, 2007, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) held a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the privacy implications of these data mining programs.  He reported that apart from the programs based at the NSA, there were 14 different government data mining programs run by the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security and Health.  “Although billed as counterterrorism tools, the overwhelming majority of these data mining programs use, collect, and analyze personal information about ordinary American citizens…a mistake in a government data base could cost a person his or her job, sacrifice their liberty, and wreak havoc on their life and reputation.”

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