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<nettime> Turning tables on government surveillance
Steve Cisler on Fri, 20 Dec 2002 00:00:49 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Turning tables on government surveillance

<The San Jose Mercury News does a good job of covering issues related to
digital rights, privacy, and copyright. Here's a development of special
interest to those who were at World InfoCon earlier this month.


Posted on Thu, Dec. 19, 2002	
By Jim Puzzanghera
Mercury News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - 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 e-mail 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 last month -- and spurred
some people to do a little database surfing of their own.

``This is sort of a way of making him feel watched in the same way other
people would feel watched,'' said Stephen DeVoy, 40, a computer scientist
who created the John Poindexter Awareness Office site last month.

Calls to Poindexter's house are now greeted by a phone company ``do not
disturb'' message that says the person is not available. The Pentagon also
has removed the résumés of Poindexter and other Information Awareness
Office officials from its Web site.

Jan Walker, a news officer for the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency, which oversees Poindexter's office, said the Web site is
periodically revised and would not comment when asked if Poindexter or
others have been harassed.

DeVoy said he's not trying to harm Poindexter or other Information
Awareness Office officials whose personal information is listed on his
site, adding that he has obtained Poindexter's Social Security number but
has not posted it because he doesn't want to help identity thieves.  
DeVoy was employed by a private contractor doing information-technology
work for the Pentagon until being fired in June, he believes, for other
Web writings critical of U.S. policies.

``My goal is to simply let them know what they are doing affects other
people and they should think about the consequences'' of Total Information
Awareness, DeVoy said.

He's not alone.

Matt Smith, a columnist with SF Weekly, facetiously published Poindexter's
phone number last month and encouraged readers to call.  The column
quickly circulated around the Internet and sparked a flood of responses.
John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San
Francisco-based electronic-privacy group, has published not only
Poindexter's home phone number but those of some of his neighbors as well
in a column that has been posted on several Web sites.

``Some people are suspicious that the . . . Total Information Awareness
system will be used to harass and track the activities of people who some
significant fraction of society don't agree with,'' wrote Gilmore.  ``It
would be good to have an early public demonstration of just how bad life
could become for such targeted citizens.''

Poindexter makes an inviting target for such a demonstration, said Declan
McCullagh, editor of the Politech mailing list, which focuses on politics
and technology.

Poindexter was national security adviser to former President Reagan from
1985 to 1986 and was a key figure in the covert plan known as Iran-Contra
to trade weapons for Americans held hostage by Iran. He was convicted of
five felony counts of lying to Congress, destroying official documents and
obstructing the congressional inquiry into the affair. His convictions
were overturned on appeal, because testimony given by Poindexter to
Congress under a grant of immunity was unfairly used against him at trial.

McCullagh said the Total Information Awareness project has sparked far
more outrage than previous projects with privacy implications, such as the
FBI's ``Carnivore'' Internet surveillance software.

``This anger is manifesting itself in this strange sort of Internet
activism,'' McCullagh said. ``I think there's a sense of, if you want to
watch us, then be prepared to be watched yourself.''

The Poindexter Awareness Office can be found at www.breakyourchains.org/



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