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Wednesday, December 25, 2002

The Worst of 2002

Every call you make, every song you take...........we'll be watching you. I've already blogged the NYT story on Big Brother's new tools together with my own opinions on the topic (Here) but today the party is growing.Google News is currently flagging 13 items in the 'and related' category. It's is relatively unusual to find specialist journalists so uniformly in agreement about something, so without further comment I reproduce extracts from a representative selection. Come on John, let's get close up and personal, I think I need to be surveilled.

What was the worst technology product of the year? There are so many deserving choices, mostly related to clumsy efforts by media companies and their lawyers to restrict the public's enjoyment of digital movies and music. But in terms of potential impact on our lives, the Worst of 2002 award goes to TIA, the Total Information Awareness program, spawned by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Information Awareness Office. TIA is exploring the feasibility of developing a national surveillance system intended to identify potential terrorists and criminals through "data mining" of the public and private electronic records of every citizen.

Every telephone call you make, every credit card transaction, all your e-mail and instant messages, all your medical records, your magazine subscriptions, your police record, driver's license records, gun purchases, travel records, banking records--all would be fed into a hopper and sifted by the TIA spy software. Another facet of the DARPA project calls for the study of a nationwide biometric "Human ID at a Distance" program that could track and identify individuals not just in the electronic world but also in the physical world by using facial recognition and other technologies now in development.
Source: Fortune

First it was Echelon, the super-secret global eavesdropping program run by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), and then Carnivore, the super-secret Internet-snooping program run by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Now we have a new piece of privacy busting to contend with in the form of the Total Information Awareness program, or TIA. Based on the limited information released to date, the goal of the TIA program is to compile and search through thousands of public and private data sources, located in this country and possibly elsewhere. These data sources include commercial databases, such as ones used to record your purchases at places such as bookstores, video shops, grocery stores and Internet malls.

The TIA program would also trawl through the endless public data sources including driving records, tax filings, visa and passport use, calls for police assistance and more. TIA would have access to records listing all your phone calls, all e-mails sent and received (including the content), and all Web sites you have visited. Companies are also collecting boatloads of information about where you go as well. Sporting venues, airports, not to mention small and large shops, are all recording your whereabouts on video. Police departments have even started using advanced software to analyze some of this video to determine who appears in the picture. The "Fast Pass" electronic devices installed on vehicles and used to gain access to toll bridges and highways are currently monitored and recorded in urban locations far away from these structures (to analyze traffic patterns). And don't forget that the new generation of mobile phones all transmit location information that is stored in yet another database.

That is an awful lot of information about any one particular person. What does the government intend to do with all this information? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org) quotes U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Pete Aldridge as having publicly stated that the TIA program will involve "discovery of connections between transactions--such as passports; visas; work permits; driver's license; credit card; airline tickets; rental cars; gun purchases; chemical purchases--and events--such as arrest or suspicious activities and so forth." The single page Web site describing the TIA program (www.darpa.mil/iao/TIASystems.htm) expands on this description somewhat by saying that, among other things, the system will focus on developing "novel methods for populating the database from existing sources, create innovative new sources, and invent new algorithms for mining, combining, and refining information for subsequent inclusion into the database; and, [create] revolutionary new models, algorithms, methods, tools, and techniques for analyzing and correlating information in the database to derive actionable intelligence."
Source: Daily Yomiuri (Japan)

Growing controversy around the US Defense Department's shadowy Total Information Awareness project may be the cause of the steady decrease in the project's virtual presence Call it the incredibly shrinking government Web site. As controversy grows over the Defense Department's shadowy Total Information Awareness (TIA) project, the project's virtual presence is steadily decreasing. First, biographical information about the TIA project leaders, including retired Admiral John Poindexter, disappeared from the Defense Department's site last month. A mirror that one activist created from Google's cache shows the deleted information included four resumes listing past work experience but no addresses or contact information.

Then, sometime in the last week, the TIA site shrank still more and some links ceased to work. The logo for the TIA project -- a Masonic pyramid eyeballing the globe -- vanished, a highly unusual step for a government agency. So did the TIA's Latin "scientia est potentia" slogan, which means "knowledge is power". A spokeswoman for the Information Awareness Office, which runs the TIA project at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), said she had no details on the deletions. The disappearing documents come as the TIA has become a lighting rod for criticism and as online activists have been turning the tables on Poindexter by reposting his personal information and home telephone number as widely as possible. The process started with a column in SF Weekly, a San Francisco alternative newspaper, by Matt Smith. He reported Poindexter's home address and telephone number and recounted a brief telephone conversation he had with Poindexter's wife, Linda. Then John Gilmore, the co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, replied with a widely read essay that urged a broader effort to surveil Poindexter. "Even if some of the information that people end up revealing or using about such targeted scumbags is incorrect, such a public demonstration would highlight the damaging effects that incorrect database information can have on innocent peoples' lives, when used to target them for harassment without due process of law," Gilmore wrote.
Source: ZDNET

Getting to know John, getting to know all about John. As a form of protest, people are working to provide "Total Information Awareness" of John Poindexter. With the potential of all this personal information about the public being in John Poindexter's hands, some people have decided to protest by putting Poindexter's personal information in the hands of the public. By some accounts, it started with an article in SF Weekly and has since spread across the internet and been covered by numerous media sources including the Associated Press, Wired and The Mercury News.

So far quite a bit of personal information about Poindexter has been gathered. (I'm going to resist the urge to post or link to it here, a simple search on Google should turn it up if you are that interested). John's phone number, social security number, home address, relative's names, neighbor's names and shopping habits are just a few of the items now available online for your inspection. Not enough? How about satellite pictures of his home and office? Maps of how to get there? Tax records?

The protest is continuing and more information will surely be discovered and posted by those who want to show John what it feels like when your personal information isn't personal anymore. Aside from making Poindexter uncomfortable, the protest and its coverage in the media has kept the spotlight on the TIA and the privacy concerns it brings. The glare of that spotlight may be having an effect. The TIA's website seems to be shrinking. Along with the creepy Orwellian logo, the biographical information about the project's leaders, including Poindexter, has been removed.
Source: Morons.org

Activists target Pentagon internet information head. Internet activists have a message for John Poindexter, the head of a controversial Pentagon research project to find terrorists by searching the everyday transactions of Americans: Threaten to invade our privacy, we'll invade yours. They've plastered Poindexter's email address and home phone number on dozens of web sites, forcing him to block all incoming calls. They've posted satellite images of his suburban Washington house and maps showing how to get there. And they've created online forms to collect even more personal data on him.

"If you are a store clerk, study the photos above. Learn this face. If you are a shipping clerk, study this name," reads a site titled The John Poindexter Awareness Office, a play on Poindexter's Information Awareness Office at the Pentagon. "When and if you see Mr Poindexter purchase something, travel somewhere or do, well, anything - send us a tip describing your observations. We will display the information received right here on this Web site." It's all an attempt to turn the tables on Poindexter, who is trying to create a vast database of information, from credit card purchases to medical files, and develop software to search it for signs of terrorist activity. The project, called Total Information Awareness, has outraged civil libertarians since it became widely known in November - and spurred some people to do a little database surfing of their own.
Source: NZOOM (New Zealand)

Many are concerned about the government because of their new spyware, the Big Brother affect. Oddly enough, I'm not concerned because I think the government might be "reading my mail".

There's an old saying that goes something like the master swordsman doesn't fear another master, he fears the amateur.

I feel the same way about Big Brother. I don't consider them to be a threat about what they might intentionally find out about me or my friends/family. I fear what they might "think" they found in a fit of total incompetence................

Amen to that. I heard the swordsman comment phrased a little less elegantly: "Evil has to sleep at night. Stupidity is 24/7." At least Big Brother as depicted in Orwell's 1984 was competent - it was staffed by dedicated bellyfeeling Party members who were capable of doing a pretty good job of hunting down and exterminating those who presented a threat to the Party, while leaving the proles alone. A Big Brother staffed by the cluel^H^H^H^H^H fucknoz^H^H^H^H^H^H^H twit^H^H^H^H individuals presently working at INS, or even your local DMV, scares me far more than the one in 1984. But compared to either of those alternatives, I'll take a Big Brother staffed by NSA and CIA any day. Heck, I'll even give the FBI a shot at joining in and redeem itself.

Short of spending trillions to achieve the 1984 total security state, the way you achieve the optimum balance between freedom and security is that you have your police force be just a little bit stupid, and just a little bit slow. We got hit on 9/11 because we went for very slow and very stupid. Bureaucratic stonewalling (no information sharing between FBI, CIA, and NSA) was part of it, as were politically-motivated fuckups like diverting FBI resources away from the Islamokazi whackjob terrorist threat to investigate the domestic militia whackjob terrorist threat. As for stupidity, it doesn't get much dumber than giving visa confirmations to the 9/11 hijackers six months after all hell broke loose - only the INS could pull something like that. And only in the INS could Ashcroft himself not fire those responsible. IMNSHO, the proposed Big Brother composed of our intelligence agencies (NSA, CIA, post-9/11 FBI design goal) has the potential to achieve the right degree of stupidity and slowness for the job -- and I don't mean that as an insult. Any stupider and slower (pre-9/11 FBI, current INS), and we'd have another 9/11. Any smarter and faster (Stasi, KGB, Gestapo), and it'd be 1984.
Source: Slashdot.org

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