Nov 202002
Authors: Becky Waddingham

A bill to create a Department of Homeland Security, that neo-Bolshevik-sounding agency, passed the Senate Tuesday night 90-9 and will soon be signed by the president.

While protecting the homeland (or motherland, or fatherland, whatever) is of course important, Americans should be concerned with how this will be done. And they should be nothing less than frightened by some of the things the government has already decided.

Probably the most jaw-droppingly Orwellian program of the whole homeland security mission is the new Information Awareness Office, a branch of the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency. DARPA itself isn’t scary; it actually helped foster the creation and spread of the Internet and cutting-edge military technology like the Stealth bomber. But this project has the potential for unprecedented levels of privacy invasion.

Its stated mission is to “counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness useful for preemption; national security warning; and national security decision making.” Basically, it aims to deal with terrorist threats through innovative uses of surveillance, which on the surface seems realistic, necessary and harmless.

But dig below the surface and you will encounter programs such as HumanID, whose goal is to “develop automated biometric identification technologies to detect, recognize and identify humans at great distances.” Multi-modal biometric technology will include face recognition, iris recognition and even gait recognition, meaning the government will be able, among other things, to discern who is jogging by the Jefferson Memorial and who is gazing at Monet treasures at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In a twist of irony too serendipitous for many scriptwriters, IAO is led by none other than John Poindexter, the former National Security Advisor to President Reagan who helped engineer the plan to sell arms to Iran and illegally divert the funds to Nicaraguan rebels.

A domestic surveillance program with Rear Adm. Poindexter at the helm. If that were not scary enough, consider the program’s budget. The admiral gets $200 million for merely one aspect of the project: creating computer dossiers on 300 million Americans.

Of course, the intent of these programs is to capture terrorists and warn the public of terrorist attacks. But the HumanID program also mentions “criminal and other human-based threats.” So candy bar thieves at New York City bodegas could be eye-scanned, allowing authorities to track them down wherever these biometric sensors are placed. I am not making this up. Fact truly is stranger than fiction.

(Aside: This program probably spells doom for me. My visits to the White House and State Department subjected me to a few Secret Service/FBI background checks, which are now on file somewhere. Writing columns like this one probably doesn’t help, either.)

Still unconvinced? The brilliant IAO motto is proof positive of this program’s terrifying and vast potential. Like every government agency and most states in the union, the project has a catchphrase. New York State has “Excelsior” (ever upward). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has “Ad Astra” (to the stars). And now IAO has “Scientia Est Potentia.”

I checked my Latin dictionary. The slogan translates two ways, number one being “Knowledge is Power.” They admit it outright: the government’s knowledge of you is power over you. No flies on them about that one. The other translation?

“Knowledge is Tyranny.” You decide.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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