January 13, 2003
The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye Chair, Subcommittee on Defense U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations SD-119 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Inouye:
I would like to request that the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hold a hearing on the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In particular I think we should hear from Adm. John Poindexter, who proposed the project while working for Syntek, a DARPA contractor, and now directs DARPA's Information Awareness Office.
The Total Information Awareness project raises serious issues of privacy violations and legality, the choice of its leadership, and appropriate use of Defense Department funds. The TIA system would be intended to identify terrorists before they act by using data mining techniques to find patterns in a vast integrated database of information on Americans. The DARPA website suggests the TIA system would use financial, education, travel, medical, veterinary, country entry, place/event entry, transportation, housing, critical resources, government, and communications records. According to Defense Undersecretary Pete Aldridge, it could potentially include every banking transaction, every credit card use, every visit to a doctor and prescription, and every phone call made by American citizens. Such a database has a frightening potential for abuse and would threaten our right to privacy. Because of that threat, such a government database would appear to be contrary to a number of privacy laws.
The delicacy of this project and its potential for abuse would certainly call for the highest ethical standards of those who carry it out. Given his past, I think there is a real question whether Adm. Poindexter is an appropriate choice to lead this project, whether he is sufficiently sensitive to the need to limit government power or to the importance of strictly following laws.
Pentagon officials have stressed that TIA for now is only a research project, and would be turned over to law enforcement and intelligence agencies for implementation. Thus it is not clear why DARPA is using defense funds for this project. In this regard it is important to note that the $10 million a year cost of TIA, as cited by Aldridge, covers only the integration of several programs that are funded separately. A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) analysis found that the total budget for all the technology programs under the Information Awareness Office that are to be used in the TIA is $137.5 million in FY 2003. CRS projects that the cost of these programs for FY04-07 could be $575 million. This is a substantial use of defense funds for what would appear to be a law enforcement project.
Because of these concerns, I think it is important for Congress to have an opportunity to hear from the man who developed and runs this project before we write next year's defense spending bill. In addition, I note that Congress has had difficulty getting information on the project from the Defense Department-I still have not received a substantive response to a letter on TIA I sent to Secretary Rumsfeld on December 5, 2002. I look forward to working with you to address these serious concerns.
Tom Harkin United States Senator