The U.S. Senate, in an inexplicable display of sense, yesterday killed funding for the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness program. The TIA, you may recall, is a DARPA program that hoped to suck in every piece of electronic information about everyone in the world, then examine it to find evidence of terror plots.
This obvious invasion of Americans’ privacy — ignoring the technological obstacles — turned out to be too much for the Senate to swallow, the NYTimes reports (in a story by that “major-league asshole” Adam Clymer). From Clymer’s dispatch:
… research and development of the system would have to halt within 60 days of enactment of the bill unless the Defense Department submitted a detailed report about the program, including its costs, goals, impact on privacy and civil liberties and prospects for success in stopping terrorists. The research could also continue if President Bush certified to Congress that the report could not be provided or that a halt “would endanger the national security of the United States.”
The limits on deploying, or using, the system are stricter. While it could be used to support lawful military and foreign intelligence operations, it could not be used in this country until Congress had passed new legislation specifically authorizing its use.
The Wyden amendment also included a statement that Congress believed “the Total Information Awareness programs should not be used to develop technologies for use in conducting intelligence activities or law enforcement activities against United States persons without appropriate consultation with Congress or without clear adherence to principle to protect civil liberty and privacy.”
This all sounds well and good, but do recall that the TIA is headed by John Poindexter, a senior alumnus of the Iran-Contra affair. Iran-Contra, of course, is a textbook example of the Executive Branch doing something that Congress had explicity prohibited.
So while I applaud the Senate for its action, I don’t really believe that the TIA will be killed quite so easily.