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Watchdog Urges Bush to Kill Pentagon Data-Mine Plan
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Source: Reuters

Watchdog Urges Bush to Kill Pentagon Data-Mine Plan
Last Updated: November 14, 2002 08:56 PM ET
By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon should end research aimed at sifting through everything from credit card transactions to travel records for tip-offs to terrorist plots, the American Civil Liberties Union told President Bush on Thursday.

"If the Pentagon has its way, every American -- from the Nebraskan farmer to the Wall Street banker -- will find themselves under the accusatory cyber-state of an all-powerful national security apparatus," said Laura Murphy, director of the Washington national office.

The Pentagon program would create an infrastructure for what the government hopes will become the most extensive electronic surveillance in history, the watchdog group said.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon's cradle of emerging technologies, began awarding contracts this month for development of a prototype "Total Information Awareness" system -- a kind of vast global electronic dragnet.

The system would use statistical techniques known as data mining to look for threatening patterns among everyday transactions, the director of the effort, John Poindexter, a former national security advisor, has said.

The civil liberties group said it would link commercial and governmental databases in the United States and overseas, presumably including everything from student report cards to mental-health histories.

If Bush refuses to kill the project now, said Katie Corrigan, an ACLU legislative counsel, "Congress should step in quickly and pull the plug on this dangerous idea."

Poindexter, a retired Navy admiral, has argued that the government needs to "break down the stovepipes" separating commercial and government data bases. Poindexter was convicted on five counts of deceiving Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal but his conviction was set aside on the grounds that his immunized congressional testimony had been used against him.

"We must become much more efficient and more clever in the ways we find new sources of data, mine information from the new and the old, generate information, make it available for analysis, convert it to knowledge, and create actionable options," he said in an Aug. 21 speech to a technology conference in Anaheim, California.

In the first related contract, Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of Falls Church, Virginia, has been awarded $1.5 million worth of work on a planned $62.9 million contract, the Army said last week. Work under the contract is expected to be wrapped up by Nov. 7, 2007, the Army said.

Philip Zelikow, a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board who is executive director of a Markle Foundation task force on national security in the information age, said the government's immediate challenge was to make better use of the mountains of data already in its hands or publicly available.

"Data mining, like any other government data analysis, should occur where there is a focused and demonstrable need to know, balanced against the dangers to civil liberties," he said. "It should be purposeful and responsible."

Copyright Reuters 2002. All rights reserved.

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