|08/06/04||How Big Brother Is Watching, Listening and Misusing Information About You
By TERESA HAMPTON & DOUG THOMPSON
You're on your way to work in the morning and place a call on your wireless phone. As your call is relayed by the wireless tower, it is also relayed by another series of towers to a microwave antenna on top of Mount Weather between Leesburg and Winchester, Virginia and then beamed to another antenna on top of an office building in Arlington where it is recorded on a computer hard drive.
The computer also records you phone digital serial number, which is used to identify you through your wireless company phone bill that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency already has on record as part of your permanent file.
A series of sophisticated computer programs listens to your phone conversation and looks for “keywords” that suggest suspicious activity. If it picks up those words, an investigative file is opened and sent to the Department of Homeland Security.
Congratulations. Big Brother has just identified you as a potential threat to the security of the United States because you might have used words like “take out” (as in taking someone out when you were in fact talking about ordering takeout for lunch) or “D-Day” (as in deadline for some nefarious activity when you were talking about going to the new World War II Memorial to recognize the 60th anniversary of D-Day).
If you are lucky, an investigator at DHS will look at the entire conversation in context and delete the file. Or he or she may keep the file open even if they realize the use of words was innocent. Or they may decide you are, indeed, a threat and set up more investigation, including a wiretap on your home and office phones, around-the-clock surveillance and much closer looks at your life.
Welcome to America, 2004, where the actions of more than 150 million citizens are monitored 24/7 by the TIA, the Terrorist Information Awareness (originally called Total Information Awareness) program of DARPA, DHS and the Department of Justice.
Although Congress cut off funding for TIA last year, the Bush Administration ordered the program moved into the Pentagon's “black bag” budget, which is neither authorized nor reviewed by the Hill. DARPA also increased the use of private contractors to get around privacy laws that would restrict activities by federal employees.
Six months of interviews with security consultants, former DARPA employees, privacy experts and contractors who worked on the TIA facility at 3701 Fairfax Drive in Arlington reveal a massive snooping operation that is capable of gathering – in real time – vast amounts of information on the day to day activities of ordinary Americans.
Going on a trip? TIA knows where you are going because your train, plane or hotel reservations are forwarded automatically to the DARPA computers. Driving? Every time you use a credit card to purchase gas, a record of that transaction is sent to TIA which can track your movements across town or across the country.
Use a computerized transmitter to pay tolls? TIA is notified every time that transmitter passes through a toll booth. Likewise, that lunch you paid for with your VISA becomes part of your permanent file, along with your credit report, medical records, driving record and even your TV viewing habits.
Subscribers to the DirecTV satellite TV service should know – but probably don't – that every pay-per-view movie they order is reported to TIA as is any program they record using a TIVO recording system. If they order an adult film from any of DirecTV's three SpiceTV channels, that information goes to TIA and is, as a matter of policy, forwarded to the Department of Justice's special task force on pornography.
“We have a police state far beyond anything George Orwell imagined in his book 1984,” says privacy expert Susan Morrissey. “The everyday lives of virtually every American are under scrutiny 24-hours-a-day by the government.”
Paul Hawken, owner of the data information mining company Groxis, agrees, saying the government is spending more time watching ordinary Americans than chasing terrorists and the bad news is that they aren't very good at it.
“It's the Three Stooges go to data mining school,” Hawken says. “Even worse, DARPA is depending on second-rate companies to provide them with the technology, which only increases the chances for errors.”
One such company is Torch Concepts. DARPA provided the company with flight information on five million passengers who flew Jet Blue Airlines in 2002 and 2003. Torch then matched that information with social security numbers, credit and other personal information in the TIA databases to build a prototype passenger profiling system.
Jet Blue executives were livid when they learned how their passenger information, which they must provide the government under the USA Patriot Act, was used and when it was presented at a technology conference with the title: Homeland Security – Airline Passenger Risk Assessment.
Privacy Expert Bill Scannell didn't buy Jet Blue's anger.
“JetBlue has assaulted the privacy of 5 million of its customers,” said Scannell. “Anyone who flew should be aware and very scared that there is a dossier on them.”
But information from TIA will be used the DHS as a major part of the proposed CAPSII airline passenger monitoring system. That system, when fully in place, will determine whether or not any American is allowed to get on an airplane for a flight.
JetBlue requested the report be destroyed and the passenger data be purged from the TIA computers but TIA refuses to disclose the status of either the report or the data.
Although exact statistics are classified, security experts say the U.S. Government has paid out millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements to Americans who have been wrongly accused, illegally detained or harassed because of mistakes made by TIA. Those who accept settlements also have to sign a non-disclosure agreement and won't discuss their cases.
Hawken refused to do business with DARPA, saying TIA was both unethical and illegal.
“We got a lot of e-mails from companies – even conservative ones – saying, 'Thank you. Finally someone won't do something for money,'” he adds.
Those who refuse to work with TIA include specialists from the super-secret National Security Agency in Fort Meade, MD. TIA uses NSA's technology to listen in on wireless phone calls as well as the agency's list of key words and phrases to identify potential terrorist activity.
“I know NSA employees who have quit rather than cooperate with DARPA,” Hawken says. “NSA's mandate is to track the activities of foreign enemies of this nation, not Americans.”
© Copyright 2004 by Capitol Hill Blue