Bush's Year of U.S. Surveillance

Thursday, 2 January 2003, 3:47 PM EST

It may seem unreasonable, unfair and downright mean-spirited to compare the Bush administration to the minions of Sauron, the granddaddy of evil in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

But here goes.

The executive branch's attempts in 2002 to peer into the lives of Americans were more than a little similar to the exploits of Middle Earth's would-be rulers.

Take, for example, the Bush team's most notorious proposal of the year: the Total Information Awareness system. TIA is an "ultra-large, all-source information repository" (PDF) meant to track citizens' every move, from Web surfing to doctor visits, travel plans to university grades, passport applications to ATM withdrawals.

For J.R.R. Tolkien fans, the scheme sounds eerily familiar.

"Concealed in his fortress (Sauron) sees all. His gaze pierces cloud, shadow, earth and flesh," says Saruman, the evil wizard allied with Sauron, in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Privacy advocates howled when details of TIA began to emerge.

"It's like Sauron in Lord of the Rings," said Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "He may not be all-powerful yet. But his tentacles reach everywhere. And his (wraiths) are saying, 'Give us that ring or else you are in serious trouble.'"

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