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Poindexter PowerPoint slideWant to see the presentation John Poindexter made to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) describing the Total Information Awareness program (mentioned below)? Click the following links to view the text and PowerPoint slides (in .PDF format) that were made available on the DARPA web site. NOTE: to view these files, you'll need the Adobe Acrobat Reader. Click the link to download a free copy.

TIA logoOn November 21, 2002, news broke that the Department of Defense is developing a massive database to collect as much data as possible on each citizen and permanent resident of the United States. Known as the "Total Information Awareness" program, its purpose, in the words of Edward Aldridge, the Undersecretary of Acquisitions and Technology, is to search for "patterns indicative of terrorist activity." According to Aldridge, such "patterns" would include sudden large cash withdrawals, purchase of one-way air, rail, or rental car transportation, purchase of chemicals or agents that could be used to produce chemical or biological weapons, and the purchase or transfer of certain firearms.

However, the Total Information Awareness program will collect data from all available databases (such as those rented by telemarketers) and public and government records—in other words, virtually everything that produces a written record, from marriage licenses to which movies you rent from a video store, is fair game for the Total Information Awareness database. That includes bank transactions (whether check or ATM), which hotels you stay in, your telephone records, what you charge on your credit cards, insurance coverage and claims, traffic records, and even your medical records, including prescriptions. Yes, if you're a woman with a prescription for birth control pills—or a man with a prescription for Viagra—that information is the sort of data the Total Information Awareness program will keep about you in order to "fight terrorism."

As if the Orwellian logo (above) wasn't creepy enough, the choice of former Admiral John Poindexter, the National Security Adviser to President Reagan, to head the program's development is mindboggling. Poindexter is best remembered for being convicted of five counts of making false statements to Congress during the Iran-Contra investigation. Poindexter's convictions were overturned by an appeals court on the basis that Poindexter's testimony before Congress influenced witnesses at his trial. However, in his testimony to Congress, Poindexter did admit to his role in the Iran-Contra affair, including a willful attempt to mislead President Reagan. However, Aldridge said that Poindexter "will only develop the tool, he will not be exercising the tool."

Nonetheless, the Total Information Awareness database clearly has enormous potential for abuse if implemented (one can only shudder at what Presidents Johnson and Nixon would have done to their political enemies with such a tool). A logo showing one eye scanning the world and the Latin motto "scientia est potentia" (knowledge is power). . . . maybe 1984 has arrived, eighteen years later.

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