And the scariness continues…Let’s start at the beginning. In 2002 the U.S. government established two counter-terrorism organizations, the Information Awareness Office (IAO) and the Information Exploitation Office (IXO). These two organizations have a similar over-arching aim: to develop technologies that can examine large amounts of electronic transactions and spot patterns of behavior that might indicate terrorism. They differ in that the IAO is developing domestic surveillance technologies and the IXO is working on overseas surveillance. Both of these organizations operate under the auspices of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Let’s focus on the IAO. First reason you should be a little concerned about this organization: John M. Poindexter was appointed as its head. You remember him? Poindexter was Reagan’s National Security Advisor and was involved in the Iran-Contra Scandal. He was charged and found guilty on five felony counts of conspiracy, false statements, destruction and removal of records and obstruction of Congress; this conviction was later overturned on the grounds that it had been reached using immunized testimony given before Congress. Exactly the sort of person I want developing a system to mine my private data. Not to worry though, President Bush has the utmost confidence in Poindexter. The White House Press Secretary said “Admiral Poindexter is somebody who this Administration thinks is an outstanding American, and an outstanding citizen who has done a very good job in what he has done for our country, serving in the military.”
Putting aside any doubts one might have about the leadership of the IAO, there are other things to be concerned about. What exactly does it mean to say the organization wants to develop technologies that can examine large amounts of electronic transactions? According to Poindexter’s descriptions of the system, called the Total Information Awareness System, it means the system “will provide intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials with instant access to information from Internet mail and calling records to credit card and banking transactions and travel documents, without a search warrant.”
Say goodbye to what little privacy you had left and say hello to Big Brother.
If you want some more info:
- Article on the Problems of a total surveillance system.
- NYTimes article on the Total Information Awareness System.
- Another article on the Total Information Awareness System, from the Washington Post.
- Guardian article on the IAO.
- Interesting/amusing article analyzing IAO’s logo.
- In his own words: remarks given by Poindexter at a conference.
- In case you want a refresher course, the Executive Summary of the Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters.