Balancing data needs and privacy

Friday, 9 May 2003, 8:49 AM EST

It's hard to believe much good will come of the Bush administration's plan for a grandiose surveillance network that would scour trillions of data snippets worldwide hunting for signs of terrorism. I think civil libertarians are right to worry about the dangers lurking in the massive governmental snooping expedition known as Total Information Awareness (TIA), especially since it rests on the unproven notion that machines can automatically detect terrorism patterns in seemingly unrelated transactional data.

Nonetheless, if such a system can be made to work while respecting the privacy of law-abiding Americans, Teresa Lunt likely will play a key role.

Lunt is the computer security expert here at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) hired by the Pentagon's research arm to create a "privacy appliance" prototype for the electronic surveillance network. Lunt's research team snared a $3.5 million grant last month from the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to do work over the next 42 months. Hers was one of more than two dozen projects DARPA chose to fund from among 180 proposals submitted to piece together the technology required for the electronic surveillance network. Lunt's work is already starting, even though Congress voted in February to freeze funding for the surveillance network pending a DARPA report due by May 20.

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