A rider on the Senate's 2004 Defense Appropriations bill cuts off all funding for the research and development of the Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) program -- potentially a valuable tool in combating terrorism -- before research is completed.
Congress needs to consider TIA in depth, and the Senate should restore funding. Anything less demonstrates little commitment to combating the threat of terrorism and is nothing more than an abdication of responsibility.
Numerous Benefits of TIA
Section 8120 (a) of the bill, which will likely be voted on in the Senate within the week, states: "no funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Defense…may be obligated or expended on research and development on the Terrorism Information Awareness program."
Such language will preclude the kind of thoughtful consideration necessary for an accurate assessment of the program. Passage of this provision may end the debate before it has even begun and is completely unjustified.
TIA-based technologies, if successfully developed and applied within the confines of law, could offer numerous benefits to the United States counter-terrorism efforts. The Joint Inquiry into the Intelligence Failures of 9/11 identified as the No. 1 problem - the intelligence and enforcement communities did not share data related to terrorism effectively.
TIA could help address that problem, through:
- Data mining and data integration, the most effective way of solving that problem. In fact, early technologies developed under the auspices of TIA are already providing such intelligence sharing benefits for the Army's Intelligence and Security Command (which is participating in field tests of TIA programs for military applications), benefits that would be sacrificed by the Senate amendment.
- Providing federal agencies with counterterrorism responsibilities a more efficient tool for investigating suspected terrorists and allow for the more effective screening for threats, at places such as points of entry, airports and consular offices, than the unsatisfactory watch lists of today.
Prematurely rejecting such promising new technology is no answer to the asymmetric threat of terrorism - it is a Luddite response to fear.
Funding Needed for Research
Section 8120 (b) of the pending bill states that, while no funding will be allocated to research on TIA, if and when the development of TIA is complete, any deployment or implementation of the program will need the approval of Congress. The provision demonstrates the Senate's confusion: It is unreasonable and contradictory to expect that the Department of Defense will complete the research and development of TIA without funding.
And, while it is important that Congress exercise its authority to establish parameters within which TIA will be developed and implemented, congressional approval should only be required for new technologies that are used for investigatory or surveillance purposes, such as the searching of commercial data. It should not be required for new technologies that enhance intelligence sharing - a goal that is a far less controversial and poses far fewer civil liberties questions. For intelligence data already collected by the government creating such an additional hurdle, reminiscent of the pre-9/11 era, is unnecessary, unreasonable, and proves we have not learned the lessons of that tragedy.
We agree: Congress needs to ensure that TIA is not a vehicle for expanding the government's storehouse of information about individuals. Rather, appropriately conceived, TIA should mirror existing legal limitations.
It should neither expand nor contract the corpus of data available for analysis. As a result, Congress needs to consider TIA in depth before it destroys years of research and development efforts and should not adopt a blanket prohibition snuck into the bill without debate. Rather, Congress should commit to doing the hard work of digging into the details of TIA and examining its operation against the background of existing laws and the existing terrorist threats at home and abroad. The Senate should amend the Defense Appropriations bill to restore funding for the research and development of TIA research and limit the need for Congressional approval to cases dealing with non-governmental private databases for surveillance or investigatory purposes.
Recommendations for Congress
- Congress must not strangle an important ongoing research program by means of an appropriations rider that stops research and development.
- Congress needs to seriously consider and research the advantages of and challenges posed by technologies such as TIA and must establish a sound oversight procedure.
- Congress ought to take time for a thoughtful examination of the possibilities of the new technology in the context of existing law and take steps to insure that its development is consistent with those limitations.
Strangling this new technology with a procedural noose shows little commitment to combating the threat of terrorism and is nothing more than an abdication of responsibility.