Excerpts from a Department of Defense news briefing on November 20, 2002, during which Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Edward C. “Pete” Aldridge fielded questions about DARPA’s Total Information Awareness program (source: www.defenselink.mil):
Q: You described one of the functions as to establish connections between transactions…
Aldridge: And agencies.
Q: Right. Well, that sounds like a perpetual fishing expedition, as opposed to something for which a search warrant would be sought. For example, if subject A withdrew a lot of money and bought a crop duster, and then over here, bought chemicals that aren’t normally used for crop dusting, that’s what sounds like you’re after. And you wouldn’t necessarily have a specific search warrant for that kind of information…..
Sit right down, Fiends, and let your Old Aunt Dregula tell you a little story. Perhaps you’ve heard these things before, but probably not in this order.
After 9/11, a certain Admiral John PoindexterRonald Reagan’s national security advisor – came to DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) with an SAIC guy named Brian Hicks, and pitched DARPA with a project that seemed like a good idea at the time.
In broad strokes: Poindexter wanted funding for a program called “Total Information Awareness” – which would develop and deploy data-mining technologies. These applications would arguably give intelligence, counterintelligence and law enforcement agencies a vital leg-up in surveillance in the suddenly “asymmetric” war environment of post- 9/11. DARPA got a big influx of money from a grateful Congress; John Poindexter was installed as the new project manager at DARPA’s newly formed Information Awareness Office, and the future of illegal American domestic wiretapping was off to the races.
The project had problems right off the bat with their image: nobody felt terribly comfortable letting a guy like Poindexter — an Iran-Contra alumni and convicted felon – project manage a department that was already crayoning way outside the lines and even off the pages in terms of potential violations of privacy.
Civil liberties activists went into a tailspin about the ramifications TIA might have: a mass-surveillance system used to scrutinize the private information of American citizens.
(TIA’s crypto-totalitarian logo – an angry blazing eye at the top of a pyramid, staring Big Brotherly rays of scorching omniscience at certain sections of a hapless and naked globe — didn’t put any minds at rest, either. )
DARPA tried to save the program in February 2003 by changing the name of TIA to the “Terrorist Information Office” – making the focus of the terrible eye in the sky more explicitly non-citizen offending — but Congress freaked out anyway, and stopped funding the Information Awareness Office in 2003.
The project never stopped, though. It slipped into the shadows. Funding came from elsewhere…other, murkier budgets from the Dark Side, devoted to your national security. Result: the technologies were soundly developed and deployed in precisely the ways that Congress was afraid they would be.
Data mining works by casting the widest possible net – all available data – to encompass the broadest possible number of transactions, as opposed to focusing on individuals in whom law enforcement has specific interests. It’s less like a perpetual fishing expedition than a perpetual reef-dynamiting, in terms of information gathering and wholesale privacy violations.
What nobody seems to have anticipated then was that the agencies who would implement the most widespread abuses of the technologies advanced by TIA would be private corporations like Verizon and Comcast, who proved entirely willing and even patriotically eager to sell out the privacy of their customers by volunteering what they presumed to be their private data to be scrutinized with this new technology.
Opa! Shortly after TIA disappeared, suddenly the phone calls and internet traffic of American citizens were being trolled by the NSA, with no warrants whatsoever. Data that was previously considered “your private information” in the pre -9/11 world: bank records, hospital records, credit card data, website URL’s you view in your own home — are now, ostensibly, unprotected (for your own protection), gathered, and apparently… for sale.
This week we have the NebuAd scandal. According to WIRED, NebuAd, an
online advertising firm, “pays ISPs to let it eavesdrop on web users.”
This, however is not just passive data-collection. NebuAd “doesn’t just passively record traffic, but actively injects fake packets into responses from other websites in order to deliver cookies to users.”
In other words, NebuAd is, in all likelihood, just the tip of the iceberg. Data mining technology is everywhere, now – and it’s not just used to fight terrorists anymore. Now it hacks into the privacy of internet users, for no reason other than bold, capitalistic impulse-looting.
Corporations apparently have just as much right to your private information as law-enforcement communities and security agencies. Hey, they only want to read your mind so they can make you even happier than you already are! What’s wrong with that?
It’s future, fiends… just not the one you wanted.