Thu, May 22, 2003 - Page 7 News List

US citizens fear for privacy

FALSE IMPRESSION The Total Information Awareness system created fears that dossiers will be developed on ordinary US citizens, but the Pentagon denies all claims

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

A US Capitol Policer sits in his K-9 unit patrol car yesterday shortly after officials announced a name change to a system aimed at catching terrorists.

PHOTO: AFP

Saying they are worried about Americans' privacy, Pentagon officials announced in a report on Tuesday that they were changing the name of a projected system to mine databases for information to help catch terrorists to Terrorist Information Awareness from Total Information Awareness.

The officials said the name was changed because the earlier version created a false impression that system was being created "for developing dossiers on US citizens."

The report, which Congress demanded 90 days ago as a condition for allowing further research, said the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) was complying with all federal privacy laws as it developed the program. The report said the Darpa was not tapping into government or private databases, but was using synthetic or artificial information generated for the program "to resemble and model real-world patterns of behavior."

The Pentagon said it would be up to agencies that would use the program with real information to comply with privacy laws.

Privacy advocates said that was not good enough, because federal laws had huge national security loopholes. Senator Ron Wyden, who pushed through the legislation that required the report and barred using the system without new legislation, said it was insufficient to promise that the system would deal only with "legally collected information."

"Legally collected information," Wyden said, "includes just about everything. There really isn't much with teeth to protect lawfully collected medical records, travel records, credit records and financial data."

The executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, James Dempsey, said: "They basically admit that there are no laws limiting, in any meaningful way, what they can do with data."

The report called the system an effort to "integrate information technologies into a prototype to provide tools to better detect, classify and identify potential foreign terrorists." It includes biometric recognition from faces to styles of walking, known as "gait recognition," or in this report, "human kinematics," and examinations of transactions that may relate to planning terrorist activities.

A list of useful information that the Darpa had on its Web site, darpa.mil, until December included Communications, Country Entry, Critical Resources, Education, Financial, Government, Housing, Medical, Place-Event Entry, Transportation, Travel and Veterinary. A spokeswoman for the agency, Jan Walker, said the relevance of veterinary information was that some biological warfare weapons attacked animals before humans.

The report said, "Safeguarding the privacy and the civil liberties of Americans is a bedrock principle." It added that the Defense Department would make them a "central element" of the Terrorist Information Awareness program.

Senator Russell Feingold also rejected the promises of privacy.

"Our current privacy laws," Feingold said, "are inadequate to deal with new techniques of data mining, which have the ability to access extensive files containing both public and private government records on each and every American."

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