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Defense Department’s Self-Evaluation on Total Information Awareness Program No Substitute for Congressional Oversight

Press Release
Peter Montgomery or Nathan Richter
People For the American Way
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Wyden Amendment Essential Privacy Protection Measure

The Defense Department announced today that it would establish an internal board and an outside advisory committee to monitor potential threats to individual privacy from the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness Project. People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas said today that while strong internal controls are necessary, they are not a substitute for real congressional oversight, which is fundamental to our constitutional system of checks and balances.

Neas urged House-Senate conferees to accept the Wyden Amendment to the Omnibus Appropriations bill, which was adopted by the Senate on January 23. The amendment introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would condition funding of DARPA’s data-mining programs on actions by the executive branch to protect privacy and monitor the usage of personal information, and would require congressional approval for the deployment of Total Information Awareness technology. The Total Information Awareness Project is run by John Poindexter, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal.

“This administration’s flagrant willingness to trample on citizens’ civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism should make us skeptical of relying on the administration to police itself,” said Neas. “The decision to create Pentagon oversight boards is a welcome recognition that there are serious privacy concerns with the Total Information Awareness Program. But advisory boards cannot be considered a substitute for real congressional oversight. Common sense and our own recent history tell us that unchecked surveillance powers are prone to abuse.”

“Passing the Wyden Amendment is an essential first step for Congress to take in asserting its critically important oversight role and ensuring that the government protect both our safety and our Constitutional rights and liberties,” said Neas.