Back in 2003, Congress voted to deny funding to TIA, the “Total Information Awareness” program originally run by convicted felon and Iran-Contra star John Poindexter, because of privacy concerns. Well, the Christian Science Monitor is reporting today that the vast data mining program may be back, under a somewhat different name:
The US government is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity….
The core of this effort is a little-known system called Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE). Only a few public documents mention it. ADVISE is a research and development program within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), part of its three-year-old “Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment” portfolio. The TVTA received nearly $50 million in federal funding this year.
Meanwhile, in Newsweek, Michael Hirsh reports that “today, very quietly, the core of TIA survives with a new codename of Topsail.” And William Arkin of the Washington Post reports that the NSA is centralizing its domestic eavesdropping capabilities in a new “warning hub and data warehouse” in Denver, Colorado, which will become the new hub of “data mining” and analysis development, working in conjunction with the CIA and the military’s Northern Command.
How ominous is all of this? It really depends. After all, credit card issuers use data-mining to identify fraud, and that seems to fly under the radar of most civil libertarians. But without the appropriate protections in place, Poindexter’s “brainchild” starts to seem a lot more disconcerting. According to CSM, no one really knows what the scope of ADVISE is—even Curt Weldon, the vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee hasn’t been briefed on the program “yet.” Yet? Another expert notes that “ADVISE has no funding for privacy technology.” Given that we’re dealing with an administration that treats congressional oversight with contempt, none of that should go by without strict scrutiny—even if “total information awareness” could be useful at foiling this or that terrorist plot.
MORE: Kevin Drum has a few good questions that should be asked about any data mining program.