You're being watched ...Efforts to collect data on Americans go far beyond the NSA's domestic spying program
By Laura K. Donohue
CONGRESS WILL soon hold hearings on the National Security Agency's domestic spying program, secretly authorized by President Bush in 2002. But that program is just the tip of the iceberg.
Since 9/11, the expansion of efforts to gather and analyze information on U.S. citizens is nothing short of staggering. The government collects vast troves of data, including consumer credit histories and medical and travel records. Databases track Americans' networks of friends, family and associates, not just to identify who is a terrorist but to try to predict who might become one.
ADVERTISEMENT Remember Total Information Awareness, retired Adm. John Poindexter's effort to harness all government and commercial databases to preempt national security threats? The idea was that disparate, seemingly mundane behaviors can reveal criminal intent when viewed together. More disturbing, it assumed that deviance from social norms can be an early indicator of terrorism. Congress killed that program in 2003, but according to the Associated Press, many related projects continued.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency runs a data-mining program called Evidence Extraction and Link Discovery, which connects pieces of information from vast amounts of data sources. The Defense Intelligence Agency trawls intelligence records and the Internet to identify Americans connected to foreign terrorists. The CIA reportedly runs Quantum Leap, which gathers personal information on individuals from private and public sources. In 2002, Congress authorized $500 million for the Homeland Security Department to develop "data mining and other advanced analytical tools." In 2004, the General Accounting Office surveyed 128 federal departments and agencies to determine the extent of data mining. It found 199 operations, 14 of which related to counterterrorism.
What type of information could these mine? Your tax, education, vehicle, criminal and welfare records for starters. But also other digital data, such as your travel, medical and insurance records - and DNA tests. Section 505 of the Patriot Act (innocuously titled "Miscellaneous National Security Authorities") extends the type of information the government can obtain without a warrant to include credit card records, bank account numbers and information on Internet use.