Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 3, 2006

The NSA revelations and Total Information Awareness

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on January 3, 2006

The NSA story of the day is found at Slate this morning. The key news in the piece is this sentence:

A former telecom executive told us that efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president’s now celebrated secret executive order.

The piece also goes into a lot of detail, some of it speculative, on the nature of what NSA has been doing in terms of data mining. The authors compare the NSA’s activities to Total Information Awareness, which intended to have strong privacy protections in its architecture:

Adm. John Poindexter, TIA’s creator, believed in the potential intelligence benefits of data-mining broadband communications, but he was also well aware of the potential for excess. “We need a much more systematic approach” to data-mining and privacy protection, Poindexter said at a 2002 conference in Anaheim, Calif., sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Poindexter envisioned a “privacy appliance,” a device that would strip any identifiers from the information—such as names or addresses—so that government miners could see only patterns. Then if there was reason to believe that the information belonged to a group that was planning an attack, the government could seek a warrant and disable the privacy control for that specific data.

Congress, with an assist from the privacy lobby, killed TIA in 2003. My reaction at the time was that this was a mistake, and that DARPA should at least have been allowed to test TIA and see whether data mining worked before killing it. In the hindsight of recent revelations, TIA now looks like the intelligence community’s effort to move away from the legal and ethical grey zone of NSA data-mining to an above-board “new normalcy” that could enhance security without diminishing privacy and civil liberties. And when TIA was killed, those efforts stalled.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn

1 Comment »

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » TIA & NSA: the twain shall meet

June 16, 2006 @ 4:10 pm

[…] As I’ve said before, it was a big mistake to shut down TIA; its shift to the classified domain has eliminated privacy protections, made oversight more difficult, and probably slowed down the pace of innovation. […]

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>