|US to set up 'Big Brother' citizen database
London Times Times 11/22/02: Tim Reid
Original Link: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-488661,00.html
THE Bush Administration is developing a computer system to monitor every American’s credit card transactions, phone calls and even borrowed library books in an anti-terrorist measure denounced as the country’s most intrusive domestic spying network so far.
Critics of the Total Information Awareness System, development of which was confirmed yesterday, say it will give the Government unprecedented powers to spy on citizens’ personal habits. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, a civil liberties group, called it “the most sweeping plan to conduct surveillance on the public since at least the 1960s”.
“It’s probably one of the most significant public profiling proposals in modern US history,” he said. “There’s a very fine line between protecting homeland security and building a police state, and we are teetering on that line.”
The project is being overseen by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. That is headed by retired Vice-Admiral John Poindexter, the National Security Adviser during the Reagan Administration who was convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra arms scandal. The convictions were overturned on appeal.
The agency will fund the development of technologies to allow the Government to track e-mail, internet use, travel, credit card purchases, phone and bank records, medical files and every type of accessible private and public data into what the Pentagon described as “one centralised grand database”.
Edward Aldridge, Defence Under-Secretary, said: “Tracking of potential terrorists and terrorist acts require that we search for clues of such activities in a mass of data.” The project was aimed at “searching vast quantities of data to determine links and patterns indicative of terrorist activities”.
He added that the system would be part of the Bush Administration’s new strategy of seeking to stop terrorists before they attack, rather than treating terrorism as a law- enforcement issue.
Language that seems to authorise the project was buried in the Homeland Security Bill, which was approved by the Senate on Tuesday. The provision faced some opposition on Capitol Hill, but Congress was largely supportive.
The programme has been bolstered by other recent developments and legislation. On Monday a special appeals court ruled that criminal prosecutors should be able to request the bugging of suspected terrorists.
The ruling means that the FBI can monitor Americans even if they have no probable cause to think that a crime was committed, the previous legal threshold. Federal agents have also benefited from last year’s USA Patriot Act, which vastly expands the FBI’s ability to obtain personal information on suspected terrorists.
The former Vice-President, Al Gore, said: “We have always held out the shibboleth of Big Brother as a nightmare vision of the future that we’re going to avoid at all costs. They have now taken the most fateful step in the direction of that Big Brother nightmare that any President has ever allowed to occur.”
Katie Corrigan, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the Bill authorised the most intrusive domestic spying network in American history. “For the first time, Americans can be tracked as they engage in mundane activities,” Ms Corrigan said. “It’s a radical departure from the principle that police can conduct surveillance only when there is evidence of wrongdoing.”
Jan Miller, a spokeswoman for the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, said: “What we’re thinking is we don’t want another September 11. So we must not only connect the dots, but find them, know they’re dots we care about and connect them in such a way that we prevent future attacks. We believe that there can be security with privacy.”
Mr Aldridge said that information gathered with the technology would be subject to existing legal restrictions.
Moves on monitoring that worry civil liberties groups
Steps taken since September 11 in the US that have angered civil liberties groups:
Patriot Act, passed in October last year, greatly increases powers for intelligence agents to monitor citizens. It scrapped a previous requirement that foreign Intelligence be the sole purpose for a Surveillance Act wiretap or search. Now requires only a “significant purpose”. Also allows “roving” wiretaps on all telephones a terrorism suspect might use.
Bureau of Prisons ordered by US Justice Department to alter its rules to allow the monitoring of lawyer-client conversations without court order or supervision.
A presidential executive order setting up military tribunals for anyone deemed by the Justice Department to be an “enemy combatant”, for which there is no legal definition. People held under such status can be held indefinitely, without access to a lawyer and without trial. The US Government refuses to reveal how many are held under those terms.
On Monday a special appeals court issued a ruling that will allow criminal investigators to spy on Americans even if they have no probable cause to think a crime has been committed. That decision overturned a lower court finding that proof of “probable cause” was needed “to protect the privacy of Americans against highly intrusive surveillance searches”.
Total Information Awareness System, the development of a government “super-computer”. The Pentagon-funded project aims to monitor every American’s internet use, reading habits, financial transactions and mental health history.