Privacy police: Total information awareness

The US congress is facing a key decision on the controversial Total Information Awareness programme. The programme seeks to construct and put into operation a massive investigative/surveillance tool that will detect suspicious patterns by 'mining' the activity data of us residents. Recently, the us Senate agreed to block funding and postpone the project's deployment, until basic questions are answered about its potential for error and abuse of privacy

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Total Information Awareness

The us congress is facing a key decision on the controversial Total Information Awareness (tia) programme. The programme seeks to construct and put into operation a massive investigative/surveillance tool that will detect suspicious patterns by 'mining' the activity data of us residents. Recently, the us Senate agreed to block funding and postpone the project's deployment, until basic questions are answered about its potential for error and abuse of privacy.

tia seeks to broadly sweep commercial data, such as credit card records, store purchases, travel records, Internet logs and medical data. The idea is to search for suspicious patterns in these billions of bits of information to discover terrorism-related activity.

But so far it is not known how errors can be avoided to prevent the erroneous flagging of innocent people as 'terrorists'. Such a serious charge could easily be placed at a person's door, just because a person's credit card usage or that of someone with a similar name, was found to be of a pattern that could be categorised as 'suspicious'.

Many privacy groups have been voicing concerns about the program that point to precisely such ambiguities, urging a freeze on its deployment until such basic questions are answered. They also decry the fact that so far no guidelines have been made public on key issues, such as what data will be scanned or how people can correct mistakes that could damage their employment chances.

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