Scientia Est Potentia
Knowledge is Power
U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
It is difficult to counter the threat that terrorists pose. Currently, terrorists are able to move freely throughout the world, to hide when necessary, to find unpunished sponsorship and support, to operate in small, independent cells, and to strike infrequently, exploiting weapons of mass effects and media response to influence governments. This low-intensity/low-density form of warfare has an information signature, albeit not one that our intelligence infrastructure and other government agencies are optimized to detect. In all cases, terrorists have left detectable clues that are generally found after an attack. Even if we could find these clues faster and more easily, our counter-terrorism defenses are spread throughout many different agencies and organizations at the national, state, and local level. To fight terrorism, we need to create a new intelligence infrastructure to allow these agencies to share information and collaborate effectively, and new information technology aimed at exposing terrorists and their activities and support systems. This is a tremendously difficult problem, because terrorists understand how vulnerable they are and seek to hide their specific plans and capabilities. The key to fighting terrorism is information. Elements of the solution include gathering a much broader array of data than we do currently, discovering information from elements of the data, creating models of hypotheses, and analyzing these models in a collaborative environment to determine the most probable current or future scenario. DARPA has sponsored research in some of these technology areas, but additional research and development is warranted to accelerate, integrate, broaden, and automate current approaches.Here’s what The New Yorker and The New York Times said back in 2002 about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s data matrix infrastructure:
The Information Awareness Office plays it so weird that one can't help suspecting that somebody on its staff might be putting us on. The Information Awareness Office's official seal features an occult pyramid topped with mystic all-seeing eye, like the one on the dollar bill. Its official motto is "Scientia Est Potentia," which doesn't mean "science has a lot of potential." It means "knowledge is power." And its official mission is to "imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate and transition information technologies, components and prototype, closed-loop, information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness."
The phrase "total information awareness" is creepy enough to merit a place alongside "USA Patriot Act" and "Department of Homeland Security," but it is not the Information Awareness Office's only gift to the language. The "example technologies" which the Office intends to develop include "entity extraction from natural language text," "biologically inspired algorithms for agent control," and "truth maintenance." One of the Office's thirteen subdivisions, the Human Identification at a Distance (HumanID) program, is letting contracts not only for "Face Recognition" and "Iris Recognition" but also for "Gait Recognition." (Tony Blair has pledged the full coöperation of the Ministry of Silly Walks.) Another of the thirteen, FutureMap, "will concentrate on market-based techniques for avoiding surprise and predicting future events"—a sounder approach, ideologically, than regulation-based liberal soothsaying.
The Information Awareness Office is working on some really cool stuff that will eventually turn up at Brookstone and the Sharper Image, like a Palm Pilot-size PDA that does instantaneous English-Arabic and English-Chinese translations. But the Office's main assignment is, basically, to turn everything in cyberspace about everybody—tax records, driver's-license applications, travel records, bank records, raw F.B.I. files, telephone records, credit-card records, shopping-mall security-camera videotapes, medical records, every e-mail anybody ever sent—into a single, humongous, multi-googolplexibyte database that electronic robots will mine for patterns of information suggestive of terrorist activity. Dr. Strangelove's vision—"a chikentic gomplex of gumbyuders"—is at last coming into its own.
It's easy to ridicule this—fun, too, and fun is something the war on terrorism doesn't offer a lot of—but it's not so easy to dismiss the possibility that the project, nutty as it sounds, might actually be of significant help in uncovering terrorist networks. The problem is that it would also be of significant help in uncovering just about everything, including the last vestiges of individual and family privacy. This is why William Safire wrote the other day that the program should simply be shut down, as was Attorney General Ashcroft's Terrorism Information and Prevention System, which was going to enlist postal workers and the like as amateur spies.
At a minimum, a temporary shutdown, pending some sort of congressional review and the creation of safeguards, would seem to be in order…
You Are a Suspect
November 14, 2002
If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you: Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend — all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as "a virtual, centralized grand database."
To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you — passport application, driver's license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance — and you have the supersnoop's dream: a "Total Information Awareness" about every U.S. citizen.
The IAO's stated mission is to gather as much information as possible about everyone in a centralized location for easy perusal by the United States government, including Internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases, car rentals, medical records, educational transcripts, driver's licenses, utility bills, tax returns, and any other available data. In essence, the goal of the IAO is to be able to recreate a life history of thoughts and movements for any individual on the planet on demand, which the Bush administration deems necessary to counter the threat of terrorism. Critics claim the very existence of the IAO completely disregards the concept of individual privacy and liberties and is far too invasive and prone to abuse.
Since, this entity was supposedly disbanded.