Anti-data mining amendment moves forward

A conference committee made up of U.S. Senate and House negotiators has approved an amendment to a government spending bill that would limit the Department of Defense’s ability to use data-mining techniques to check up on U.S. citizens.

This week, the conference committee to the 2003 “omnibus” spending bill approved an amendment cutting spending for the Defense Advanced Research Agency’s Total Information Awareness (TIA) project until a detailed report on the project is delivered to Congress. The amendment, offered by Senators Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, now has to go back to both the House and Senate for final approval, along with the rest of the spending bill, House Resolution 2. To become law, President George W. Bush would have to sign the bill.

The Wyden amendment was not included in the House version of House Resolution 2.

TIA, a research project on using electronic information in e-mail and databases to look for terrorists, has prompted objections from several privacy groups and lawmakers. The Defense Department has released little information on TIA, which opponents fear could dig up private information such as medical and credit card records on many U.S. residents. The department has promised it would erect internal safeguards of privacy.

Representative John Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the House defense appropriations subcommittee, said in a statement that he’s concerned that the TIA program might be misused.

“When I saw the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness program, I had major concerns because of the great potential this system has to invade the privacy of American citizens,” he said in the e-mail statement. “I fully supported the controls that were added to this program in the Wyden Amendment, and even with those controls. I plan to monitor this program closely to see that it is not misused and in particular, to see that it will not be used to spy on innocent American citizens.”