Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Fw: //surveillance// Many tools of Big Brother are up and runn
wade tillett on Thu, 9 Jan 2003 06:38:44 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Fw: //surveillance// Many tools of Big Brother are up and running

[Also see post "Welcome to the Identity State" from anonymous to
nettime, November, 2001:
ml ]

----- Original Message -----
From: "s|a|m" <sam {AT} myspinach.org>
To: <surveillance {AT} lists.myspinach.org>
Sent: Wednesday, January 08, 2003 4:11 AM
Subject: //surveillance// Many tools of Big Brother are up and running

[forwarded from sarai reader-list]


New York Times    December 23, 2002

Many tools of Big Brother are up and running

By John Markoff and John Schwartz

In the Pentagon research effort to detect terrorism by electronically
monitoring the civilian population, the most remarkable detail may be
Most of the pieces of the system are already in place.

Because of the inroads the Internet and other digital network
have made into everyday life over the last decade, it is increasingly
possible to amass Big Brother-like surveillance powers through Little
Brother means. The basic components include everyday digital
like e-mail, online shopping and travel booking, A.T.M. systems,
networks, electronic toll-collection systems and credit-card payment

In essence, the Pentagon's main job would be to spin strands of
technology that would weave these sources of data into a vast

Technologists say the types of computerized data sifting and pattern
matching that might flag suspicious activities to government agencies
coordinate their surveillance are not much different from programs
in use by private companies. Such programs spot unusual credit card
activity, for example, or let people at multiple locations collaborate
on a

The civilian population, in other words, has willingly embraced the
technical prerequisites for a national surveillance system that
planners are calling Total Information Awareness. The development has
certain historical resonance because it was the Pentagon's research
that in the 1960's financed the technology that led directly to the
Internet. Now the same agency - the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, or Darpa - is relying on commercial technology that has
evolved from
the network it pioneered.

The first generation of the Internet - called the Arpanet - consisted
electronic mail and file transfer software that connected people to
The second generation connected people to databases and other
via the World Wide Web. Now a new generation of software connects
directly to computers.

And that is the key to the Total Information Awareness project, which
overseen by John M. Poindexter, the former national security adviser
President Ronald Reagan. Dr. Poindexter was convicted in 1990 of a
for his role in the Iran-contra affair, but that conviction was
by a federal appeals court because he had been granted immunity for
testimony before Congress about the case.

Although Dr. Poindexter's system has come under widespread criticism
Congress and civil liberties groups, a prototype is already in place
and has
been used in tests by military intelligence organizations.

Total Information Awareness could link for the first time such
electronic sources as video feeds from airport surveillance cameras,
card transactions, airline reservations and telephone calling records.
data would be filtered through software that would constantly look for
suspicious patterns of behavior.

The idea is for law enforcement or intelligence agencies to be alerted
immediately to patterns in otherwise unremarkable sets of data that
indicate threats, allowing rapid reviews by human analysts. For
example, a
cluster of foreign visitors who all took flying lessons in separate
parts of
the country might not attract attention. Nor would it necessarily
raise red
flags if all those people reserved airline tickets for the same day.
But a
system that could detect both sets of actions might raise suspicions.

Some computer scientists wonder whether the system can work. "This
have been possible without the modern Internet, and even now it's a
task," said Dorothy Denning, a professor in the Department of Defense
Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. Part of
challenge, she said, is knowing what to look for. "Do we really know
about the precursors to terrorist activity?" she said. "I don't think
there yet."

The early version of the Total Information Awareness system employs a
commercial software collaboration program called Groove. It was
developed in
2000 by Ray Ozzie, a well-known software designer who is the inventor
Lotus Notes. Groove makes it possible for analysts at many different
government agencies to share intelligence data instantly, and it links
specialized programs that are designed to look for patterns of

Total Information Awareness also takes advantage of a simple and
software technology called Extended Markup Language, or XML, that is
at the
heart of the third generation of Internet software. It was created by
software designers at companies like Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and
as well as independent Silicon Valley programmers.

The markup language allows data that has long been locked in isolated
databases, known in the industry as silos, to be translated into a
kind of
universal language that can be read and used by many different
Information made compatible in this way can be shared among thousands,
even hundreds of thousands, of computers in ways that all of them can

It is XML, a refinement of the Internet's original World Wide Web
that has made it possible to consider welding thousands of databases
together without centralizing the information. Computer scientists
said that
without such new third-generation Web technologies, it would have
never been
possible to conceive of the Total Information Awareness system, which
intended to ferret out the suspicious intentions of a handful of
terrorists from the humdrum everyday electronic comings and goings of
millions of average Americans.

Civil libertarians have questioned whether the government has the
legal or
constitutional grounds to conduct such electronic searches. And other
critics have called it an outlandishly futuristic and ultimately
scheme on technical grounds.

But on the latter point, technologists disagree. "It's well grounded
in the
best current theory about scalable systems," said Ramano Rao, chief
technology officer at Inxight, a Sunnyvale, Calif., company that
text-searching software. "It uses all the right buzzwords."

People close to the Pentagon's research program said Dr. Poindexter
acutely aware of the power and the invasiveness of his experimental
surveillance system. In private conversations this summer, according
several Department of Defense contractors, he raised the possibility
the control of the Total Information Awareness system should be placed
the jurisdiction of an independent, nongovernmental organization like
Red Cross because of the potential for abuse.

Dr. Poindexter declined to be interviewed for this article. A Darpa
spokeswoman, Jan Walker, wrote in an e-mail reply to questions that
don't recall ever talking about" having a nongovernmental organization
operate the Total Information Awareness program and that "we've not
held any
discussions with" such an organization.

The idea of using an independent organization to control a technology
has a high potential for abuse has been raised by previous
An abortive plan to create a backdoor surveillance capability in
communications, known as Clipper, was introduced by the Clinton
administration in 1993. It called for keys to the code to be held by
organization independent of the F.B.I. and other law enforcement

Speaking of Dr. Poindexter, John Arquilla, an expert at the Naval
Postgraduate School in Monterey on unconventional warfare, said, "The
admiral is very concerned about the tension between security and civil
liberties." He added that because of the changing nature of warfare
and the
threat of terrorism, the United States would be forced to make
between individuals' privacy and national security.

"In an age of terror wars, we have to learn the middle path to craft
security we need without incurring too great a cost on our civil
he said.

Computer scientists who work with Darpa said that Dr. Poindexter was
enthusiastic backer of a Darpa-sponsored advisory group that had been
initiated by a Microsoft researcher, Eric Horvitz, in October 2001 in
wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The group, which was composed of 41 computer scientists, policy
experts and
government officials, met three times to explore whether it was
possible to
employ sophisticated data-mining technologies against potential
attacks while protecting individuals' privacy.

A number of the scientists proposed "black box" surveillance systems
would alert human intelligence analysts about suspicious patterns.
Once the
alerts were issued in such a system, they suggested, legal processes
those used for wiretapping could be employed.

But a number of the scientists and policy experts who attended the
were skeptical that technical safeguards would be adequate to ensure
such a system would not be abused.

The debate is a healthy one, said Don Upson, who is senior vice
president of
the government business unit of a software company in Fairfax, Va.,
webMethods, and the former secretary of technology for Virginia.

"I'm glad Darpa is doing this because somebody has to start defining
the rules are going to be" about how and when to use data, he said. "I
believe we're headed down the path of setting the parameters of how
going to use information."

surveillance mailing list
surveillance {AT} lists.myspinach.org

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net