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Old 11-19-2002, 04:35 AM   #1

Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Posts: 9,506
Default More privacy concerns

(Upfront warning: Opinionated political discussion follows. Those that may be angered by critical commentary or dissent are respectfully advised to avert their gaze.)

He's baaack...

The convicted felon who brought you the political smash hit of the 80s, Iran-Contra, has returned from political exile to become a key member of the Bush Administration's new Homeland Defense scheme.

What's more, Johnny Poindexter (geek by name, not by nature) is set to control the government's biggest and most pervasive database on the activities of individual American citizens ever constructed. The project, dubbed the Information Awareness Office, seeks to attain for the government an Orwellian state of 'Total Information Awareness', which will include the breaking down of key controls present in the Privacy Act of 1974, the Right to Financial Privacy Act, and established barriers protecting individuals against the merging of commercial and government databases. It will potentially give the US military, intelligence agencies and law enforcement personnel access to information culled from individuals' email, web surfing histories, bank and credit card accounts, phone accounts, medical prescription records, travel and event attendance documents, academic transcripts and more - all without the need for a search warrant.

Oh, and it's only expected to cost US taxpayers $200 million/year to have their own freedom's revoked.

Legislation making this possible has yet to be passed, so the immediate future of Poindexter's as-yet-experimental mission shall be determined by the US Congress (the very legislative branch to which Poindexter was convicted of lying just 12 years ago) as it debates the controversial Homeland Security Act.

What's fortunate is that recent attempts at introducing legislation that would strip away basic freedoms of America's populace, such as T.I.P.S. (see previous thread) and the first attempt to legalize the actions of the Information Awareness Office, have failed to come online following criticism by civil liberties groups and those who see this as a deviation from the priorities that should be in place in order to prevent acts of terrorism in practice without turning every American into a suspect. It could very well be that the IAO is crushed under its own weight once Congress is made clear on who is to lead the office, and how. It could also be that the IAO is partially crippled via countermeasures to the point at which it's data mining technology is included as a valuable addition to the defense arsenal, without enabling access to data in the absence of a warrant and due cause for concern, and without compromising the walls that seperate public from private (or privately-sourced) data.

More on this:
Pentagon Plans a Computer System That Would Peek at Personal Data of Americans (NY Times)
US gov's 'ultimate database' run by a felon (The Register)
You Are a Suspect (NY Times)
Total Information Awareness (Washington Post)
Know-it-all plan to fight terrorism (The Washington Times)
'A supersnoop's dream' (The Washington Times)

The office's official website: (nice logo, btw )

Opinions? Do you see IAO as the good, the bad or the downright ugly?

Looks like the plan is being met with some resistance by those groups asked to participate in buiding and refining the technology behind the scheme:

In other news, the other major figure in Iran Contra, Elliot Abrams, has also been appointed to a key position within the Bush Administration's national security team. I guess memories just aren't what they used to be.

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Last edited by Czar; 12-29-2002 at 07:15 AM.
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Old 11-24-2002, 08:58 PM   #2
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Posts: 76
Default Are we slowly losing our Democracy in America?

I was wondering what you fellow geeks thought.
The Patriot Act has passed, homeland security act has passed, and many other things have happened.

I'm sick of Bush and his cronies wrapping everything under the flag and doing whatever they want. How is tracking every citizen's moves going to protect America?

Here are some things that have happened:

The Homeland Security Act includes the following provisions:

"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."

You are a Suspect:



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Old 11-24-2002, 09:51 PM   #3
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Location: Suwanee, GA, USA
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Default You are losing liberties, not democracy yet

You are losing some of your privacy and civil liberties, but not your democracy. They have not altered how we elect local representatives. But keep in mind America is a Republic, not a Democracy. The USA is a Republic where some representatives are selected via a Democratic process.

I personally don't like the invasions into my affairs either.

The funny thing is that the press did not get up to speed on this matter till after the Homeland Security Bill was passed. All this was in the bill before, but the press did not bother to read the thing till just a day before it passed. Or they did not bother to tell anyone about the privacy issues if they read it sooner. Just proves the people have to do better at the grass-roots level of informing each other of issues like these before the bill passes. Everyone can read any bill being voted on, so we all are to blame for not catching this before hand.

You can still inform your representatives that you want changes to the bill. Even many representatives admit the bill needs some changes.

I will say that the Republicans did a good job of playing on the public. They knew they could have passed this bill before the elections, the same way the made compromises for an agreement with the "lame-duck" congressional session. But they refused to make an agreement that would work before the elections, so they could play on Democratic Senators that were running for office. The result, Republicans take the Senate. What a game!
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Old 11-30-2002, 05:31 PM   #4
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If you're not engaging in illegal activites, then you have nothing to worry about.
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Old 12-01-2002, 12:53 AM   #5

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Originally posted by PaulT
If you're not engaging in illegal activites, then you have nothing to worry about.
That's certainly true to some extent, which explains why so many other national regimes have echoed the very same line in times gone, while stripping people of their freedoms in exchange for a sense of security.

To recall Benjamin Franklin's wise words in this context:
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."

Unfortunately, you can't have it both ways, and those that would claim personal freedom as their foremost ideal cannot believe that such measures as these can be enacted without oppressing them; unless, of course, there are enough counter-measures put in place to ensure that these systems cannot possibly be abused. This has yet to occur.

There's much to be said for due process, the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the preservation of civil liberties essential to the maintenance of a democratic state (or a constitutional republic). The Information Awareness Office in its present state, much like the cleverly-named Patriot Act before it, erodes these safeguards, and that is as much a threat to the innocent citizens of America as to a dangerous minority.

And really, with Interpol and the FBI still trying to come to grips with advanced technologies such as email, will the information overload produced by Big Brother truly offer that much assistance in expediating the legal process? I mean to say, law enforcement agencies can already obtain this level of data about select individuals and organizations via existing legal channels once they've established cause to attain the appropriate warrants. Further to this, how likely is it that terrorists will be careless enough to use their Visa card when purchasing C4 (looking to boost their reward points maybe? ), or that they will choose to send unencrypted trigger emails through a govt-friendly ISP? Some would tend to suggest that these systems are more likely to produce false hits by targeting the innocent, tax-paying, 'free' citizens who are themselves ironically covering the costs of such measures?

Although this takes us off-topic a little, incidental to this is the threat that the invaluable freedoms of speech and assembly could be the next to go:

All of this raises one question that the media was quick to address in the immediate aftermath of Sept 11, but has since largely ignored. That is, rather than build walls around our own countries, and diminish our personal freedoms (after all, wasn't this what CNN told us the terrorists wanted to achieve?) wouldn't it be of greater long-term value to consider whether the actions that our governments are taking beyond our shores are self-destructively contributing to a rise in anti-Western thought?

While permanent problems remain, any solution devised will be but a temporary patch.

Imagine if the $200 million/year going to IAO was instead injected into the advancement of fuel cell and renewable energy technologies designed to reduce the USA's dependence on foreign oil? That would quickly remove one crucial point of pressure from the diplomatic deck of cards. And while that alone would not remedy all of the roots of terrorism and international discontent, it may contribute more to the cause of preserving American life and liberty than yet another expensive surveillance program.

dos centavos.

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Last edited by Czar; 12-01-2002 at 12:55 AM.
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