Protection vs. Privacy
In September of 2001, the worst terrorist tragedy that has ever occurred on American soil, and quite possibly in the world, rocked the foundations of the United States of America. The unimpeded destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center led many to wonder how an event of such magnitude could not have been foreseen and prevented. Later, many sources led us to believe that it was not that the information was not there, but rather, it was the inability of intelligence communities and law enforcement agencies to communicate the data among themselves that resulted in the greatest security breach in American history. To combat this inability to coordinate use of data and information, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) developed a new brainchild, the Total Information Awareness (TIA) Program. The uniqueness of the TIA program is that it uses advanced computer data collection, sharing, and mining technologies to attempt to forewarn against terrorism by spotting patterns in people's behaviors and activities that resemble the actions of former terrorists. As one can imagine, there are numerous proponents and opponents for and against the TIA program. One of the main challengers of the program is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which has raised numerous issues regarding the effect the TIA program will have on our fundamental American right to privacy. The question that is raised is, can preemptive profiling systems provide additional levels of security to the public without jeopardizing personal privacy?
It is important first to understand exactly what DARPA's TIA Program is supposed to do and how it plans to perform these feats. First off, TIA is
[A]n experimental prototype system that consists of three parts – language translation technologies, data search and recognition technologies, and advanced collaborative and decision support tools... The research into data search and pattern recognition technologies is based on the idea that terrorist planning activities or a likely terrorist attack could be uncovered by searching for indications of terrorist activities in vast quantities of transaction data (DARPA 1).
In simple terms, TIA uses the information that already exists in a variety of databases across the globe, such as bank and credit records, library memberships, medical records, airline travel records, and databases belonging to local and foreign intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies and many more, in an attempt to weed out terrorists through a "Virtual Dragnet" (ACLU 2). The three key elements, language translation technologies, data search and recognition technologies, and advanced collaborative and decision support tools, are the cornerstones of the TIA program and are what raise both hopes for the program’s ability to succeed and fears of the program’s ability to invade the privacy of every American citizen. It is crucial to understand the current limitations...