RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Are all the howls of protest about the Pentagon’s proposed “Total Information Awareness” program being heard?


People fearing “big brother” have convinced the US Senate to slow the rush to deploy the brainchild of former Reagan national security advisor John Poindexter which would gather information on a global basis in a stated bid to catch terrorists.

By unanimous consent, the Senate agreed Thursday to demand a moratorium on TIA as part of a huge spending bill. Led by Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa, Senators want the TIA to be justified by the Bush administration before the winter is out. The president can move ahead if he decides stopping the program would “endanger the national security of the United States.” The gathering of foreign intelligence was not limited by the demand, according to The Washington Post.

Wyden and Grassley led the charge that insisted Congress must have oversight over TIA. Wyden described the plan as “the most far-reaching government surveillance plan in history. The Senate has now said that this program will not be allowed to grow without tough congressional oversight and accountability, and that there will be checks on the government’s ability to snoop on law-abiding Americans.”

People on opposite ends of the political spectrum — from William Safire and Georgia’s Bob Barr on the right to the American Civil Liberties Union on the left — have been yelling about TIA since it was disclosed last fall.

Other agencies interested in TIA

Earlier, Grassley had introduced his own amendment in the Senate, which even though not as tough as Wyden’s indicated that concerns about TIA are bipartisan. However, Grassley’s level of concern was heightened this week when he drew information from the Pentagon at a Senate hearing that other agencies were interested in TIA.

The Washington Post reported Defense Department Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz acknowledged to Grassley that several domestic agencies, including the Justice Department, FBI and Department of Homeland Security, had been talking with the Pentagon. The Post also quoted Schmitz as confirming that the FBI was negotiating an agreement “for possible experimentation with TIA technology in the future.” Grassley said the news “only heightens my concern about the blurring of lines between domestic law enforcement and military security efforts.”

The Pentagon has insisted that TIA will respect the privacy of individuals. But the shear scope of the database — gathering data on spending, on credit, on motor vehicle use, on medical insurers and more — has struck many people as something right out of George Orwell’s 1984.

The battle is far from over, however. The House of Representatives has no such language in its spending bill, according to news service reports, so assuming the respective bills pass each house differences will have to be resolved by conference committee.

If you have concerns or questions about TIA, be sure to let your congressman know.

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.