Pentagon database plan hits snag

Friday, 17 January 2003, 12:57 PM EST

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., is planning to introduce a bill on Thursday to halt the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness program. A representative said on Wednesday that if passed, the legislation would suspend the TIA program until Congress can “review the data-mining issues.”

Even if Congress never acts on Feingold’s proposal, the unusual step of trying to suspend a military program may prompt the Defense Department to review the TIA program in a way few other tactics could. The bill will also provide TIA critics with a focal point for activism.

If fully implemented, TIA would link databases from sources such as credit card companies, medical insurers and motor vehicle departments for police convenience in hopes of snaring terrorists. It’s funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Over the last two months, scrutiny of TIA has been growing, with newspaper editorials claiming that one of the project’s leaders, Adm. John Poindexter, is unfit for the job because of his participation in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s. As a protest gesture, activists and critics of TIA have posted Poindexter’s personal information online, which may lie behind the removal of information from the TIA Web site on at least three occasions.

On Tuesday, a coalition of civil liberties groups sent a letter to Congress asking that hearings be convened to investigate TIA.

“Why is the Department of Defense developing a domestic surveillance apparatus?” the letter asked. “What databases of personal information would TIA envision having access to?”

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