Issue 89, Spring 2003

Members of Congress put the brakes on the Total Information Awareness Program proposed by the Defense Department, in response to widespread protest and concern for individual rights.

The TIA, an Orwellian measure, would electronically mine vast amounts of personal information to detect patterns of terrorist activities (Censorship News 88).

The outcry to the threatened invasion of civil liberties was huge. Individuals and organizations, ranging from the ACLU to the Eagle Forum, inundated Congress with letters protesting a massive invasion of privacy and speech rights of law-abiding Americans.

An amendment introduced by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, aided by Republican Senators Grassley of Iowa and Stevens of Alaska, limits the reach of the program. The specific approval of Congress is required whenever the program is implemented with respect to Americans: the Defense Secretary must first notify Congress of each project’s costs, impact on civil liberties and likelihood of success. Much remains unclear. The Defense Department recently announced it will develop the program but leave implementation to another department.

There was strong bi-partisan support to rein in the program and keep it under the surveillance of Congress. Senator Grassley said: “Protecting Americans” civil liberties while at the same time winning the war against terrorism has got to be the top priority for the United States. Congressional oversight of this program will be a must… Congress won’t sit on its hands as the TIA program moves forward.?

Vermont Representative Bernie Sanders has also introduced the Freedom to Read Protection Act in the House to amend a section of the Patriot Act which allows the FBI to search bookstore and library records in the fight against terrorism, even of people who have never been suspected of crime.

Sanders responded to grass roots actions of Vermonters who were appalled that the FBI can spy on what Americans read, and that librarians and booksellers can be charged with a crime if they tell anyone about the inquiry.

While some restrictions to protect the nation’s defense may be necessary in wartime, theoretically they can be dropped when war is ended. But terrorism is, as we’ve been warned, a war without end. Republicans are already moving to make the Patriot Act permanent. Terrorists will have won if we are deprived of our precious liberties.