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Wed Nov 20 15:35:45 MST 2002
Anti-terror computer system plans wide, warrantless access
By John Markoff
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Pentagon is constructing a computer system that could create a
vast electronic dragnet, searching personal information as part of
the hunt for terrorists around the world - including the United
The program director, Vice Adm. John Poindexter, says the system
would provide intelligence analysts and law enforcement with instant
access to information from e-mail and calling records to credit card,
banking transactions and travel records - without a search warrant.
Historically, military and intelligence agencies have not been
allowed to spy on Americans without legal authorization. But
Poindexter, national security adviser in the Reagan administration,
has said the government needs broad new powers to process, store and
mine billions of electronic details of life in the United States.
Poindexter, who has described the plan in public documents and
speeches but declined to be interviewed, has said the government
needs to "break down the stovepipes" that separate commercial and
government databases, allowing teams of intelligence analysts to hunt
for hidden patterns of activity with powerful computers.
"We must become much more efficient and more clever in the ways we
find new sources of data, mine information from the new and old,
generate information, make it available for analysis, convert it to
knowledge and create actionable options," he said in a speech in
California earlier this year.
Poindexter quietly returned to the government in January to take
charge of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Office of
Information Awareness, charged with developing new surveillance
technologies in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
To deploy such a system, known as Total Information Awareness, new
legislation would be needed, some of which has been proposed by the
Bush administration in the Homeland Security Act now before Congress.
That legislation would amend the Privacy Act of 1974, which was
intended to limit what government agencies could do with private
The possibility that the system might be deployed domestically to let
intelligence officials look into commercial transactions worried
civil liberties proponents.
"This could be the Perfect Storm for civil liberties in America,"
said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information
Center in Washington. "The vehicle is the Homeland Security Act, the
technology is DARPA and the agency is the FBI. The outcome is a
system of national surveillance of the American public."
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been briefed on the project
by Poindexter, according to a Pentagon spokesman.
Arizona Daily Star
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