washingtonpost.com  > Technology > Columnists > Filter

Quick Quotes

Filter - Cynthia L. Webb

Someone To Watch Over Us

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, November 21, 2002; 9:38 AM

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the federal government has launched a myriad of projects to ferret out terrorists and plots against the nation. The Pentagon has been quietly working on a research project, the Total Information Awareness System (TIA for short) that would sort through commercial and government databases worldwide to track down information on terrorist plans. Yesterday, the government publicly touted the project as a tool to help intelligence and law enforcement agencies fight domestic terrorism.

Lawmakers and civil liberties groups are crying foul -- often making the inevitable Big Brother comparisons -- voicing concern about the system's potential to compromise privacy rights. John Poindexter of Iran-Contra scandal fame is the project manager for the proposed system, which is being managed by the Information Awareness Office -- part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

_____About Filter_____
Filter looks at the day's top technology news through snapshots and analysis of what the world's media outlets are covering. Washingtonpost.com's new Mon.-Fri. feature is penned by technology reporter Cynthia L. Webb. If a technology story breaks, a company falters or triumphs, or there's a new trend in technology, Filter wants you to know about it.

_____Filter Archive_____
Wired for Security (washingtonpost.com, Jan 20, 2005)
For Techs, Are Happy Days Here Again? (washingtonpost.com, Jan 19, 2005)
Video Game Dream Team (washingtonpost.com, Jan 18, 2005)
A Failing Upgrade for the FBI (washingtonpost.com, Jan 14, 2005)
New Year's Hacks (washingtonpost.com, Jan 13, 2005)
More Past Issues
__ Filter E-mail Reminder __
TechNews.com Daily E-letter Sign-up for our daily e-letter for one-click access to Filter and other TechNews.com features.
Subscribe


Pete Aldridge, the Defense Department undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, held a news conference yesterday to officially outline the program. He used the opportunity to try to quell all the Orwellian comparisons. Aldridge said the system is just in an experimental stage right now, mostly using made-up data. Poindexter has said that private information about innocent people would be protected.

"You're looking for trends in transactions that are associated with some potential terrorist act," Aldridge said, as quoted by Newsday. "And you're trying to put those pieces together." The Associated Press quoted Aldridge as saying: "This is an important research project to determine the feasibility of using certain transactions and events to discover and respond to terrorists before they act." The system would scour passports, visas, driver's licenses, credit cards, rental cars, airline tickets, gun purchases, arrest records and other records. Aldridge also tried to soothe concerns over Poindexter's role, saying if the system is put to use by law enforcement and the government, Poindexter won't be involved anymore.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California plans to draft legislation to make sure that the project does not become a threat to Americans' privacy rights, The San Jose Mercury News reports. "This is a panoply, which isn't carefully conscribed and controlled, for a George Orwell America. And I don't think the American people are ready for that by a long shot," Feinstein told the newspaper.
The San Jose Mercury News: Massive Database Dragnet Explored
Newsday: Pentagon Refutes Big Brother Charge
The Associated Press (via The New York Times): Pentagon Defends Anti-Terror Project (Registration required)
The Financial Times: FBI's Increased Powers Under Spotlight
Wired: Feds Open "Total" Tech Spy System
The Washington Post: U.S. Hopes to Check Computers Globally (article is from Nov. 12)

Debating "Total Information" Research

The Pentagon's data-mining project has drawn divided coverage from the media. GovExec.com took more of a pro-government view in an article yesterday, blasting the coverage of the project. "Assumptions have been based on misguided or false information, and attention has focused more on the fact that the project is being managed by John Poindexter ... than on DARPA's historic reputation as a sponsor of scientific research. None of this anxiety has furthered the debate over the proper role of technology and intelligence in homeland security. So what is the TIA system? Contrary to recent assertions, it isn't a new computer. Rather, it's a conceptual prototype, a design for how different technological components -- some already invented -- might one day be integrated into a single system that would be used to predict terrorist attacks."

The headline of a San Francisco Chronicle column critical of the project made no bones about its opinion: "Fighting Terror By Terrifying U.S. Citizens." In the piece, columnist Rob Morse writes: "Poindexter doesn't have all our phone calls, Macy's purchases and bridge crossings in a database yet." Washington Post editors wrote: "Privacy concerns need to be built into the technology from the beginning -- if the public decides, after being fully acquainted with the possibilities, that it is to be built at all." Meanwhile, The New York Times doesn't like the project. In a Monday editorial, the newspaper said: "There are enough federal agencies already engaged in the 'mining' of information about all of us. The last thing we need is a vast new system of domestic surveillance engineered by John Poindexter. Congress should shut down the program pending a thorough investigation." That doesn't seem a likely prospect. The project already has a $10 million budget this year alone.
GovExec.com: Tech Insider: Total Information Unawareness
The San Francisco Chronicle: Fighting Terror By Terrifying U.S. Citizens
The New York Times: A Snooper's Dream (Editorial)
The Washington Post: Total Information Awareness (Editorial)

HP Is Happy

Despite layoffs and a controversial merger -- or maybe partially because of them -- Hewlett-Packard yesterday reported fourth-quarter results that surpassed Wall Street's expectations. "We are starting to deliver on the promises of the merger," said HP chairman and chief executive Carly Fiorina, referring to the tumultuous $19 billion merger with Compaq. The company logged earnings of $390 million (13 cents a share) on revenue of $18 billion for the quarter ended Oct. 31. That compared with a combined loss of $505 million (17 cents) on revenue of $18.2 billion during the same year-ago period.
The San Jose Mercury News: H-P Posts Strong Earnings
The Washington Post: Hewlett-Packard Says Merger Is Already Saving Money

More WorldCom Cuts

Bankrupt telecom WorldCom plans to cut at least 3,000 workers from its roster next month as it seeks to save money and exit bankruptcy by next year. The Washington Post said company officials said the layoffs are part of previously announced plans to cut 17,000 jobs. Unnamed sources told the newspaper that the layoffs would affect dozens of Washington-area workers. Colorado's Gazette newspaper said that 500 Colorado Springs-area jobs will be affected by the cuts.
The Washington Post: WorldCom To Trim At Least 3,000 Jobs
Colorado's The Gazette: Capellas Announces Local WorldCom Layoffs

What's Next?

Are the days of free Internet content numbered? The Energy Department has shut down PubSCIENCE, a Web site that offered free searches and abstracts of energy and science articles and reports. The Washington Post reports that the popular site was shut down after private sector groups said PubScience competed with similar commercial services, including Scirus and Infotrieve. The Energy Department's rationale seems to be if the private sector is offering a similar service, they no longer need to spend the resources on the same thing. "What we worry about is what's next," Charles A. Hamaker, associate librarian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte told the newspaper.
The Washington Post: Free Web Research Link Closed Under Pressure From Pay Sites
Archived press release about PubSCIENCE's 1999 launch

Phone Slamming Meet Your Cousin, Internet Dumping

"Even when people are warned in dialog boxes their lines are being disconnected, they're not really paying attention to the terms and conditions," one telecommunications worker told The Australian IT. The remarks came as more than 600 people have complained about being dumped from their Australian Internet service provider and reconnected unknowingly to expensive, off-shore numbers, the newspaper reports. Don't feel too sorry for those being dumped, however. The unauthorized re-connects happened when the Internet surfers were trying to look at porn, gambling or moneymaking schemes through their Web browsers.
The Australian IT: Your Heard It Here First (First Item)

Filter is designed for hard-core techies, news junkies and technology professionals alike. Have suggestions, cool links or interesting tales to share? Send your tips and feedback to cindy.webb@washingtonpost.com.


© 2002 TechNews.com