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November 20, 2002

Pentagon database is step toward police state, Libertarians say

WASHINGTON, DC -- A massive public surveillance system under development by the Pentagon – called “Total Information Awareness” – could help lay the framework for a police state in America and should be halted immediately, Libertarians say.

“This is Big Brother on steroids,” said George Getz, Libertarian Party communications director. “The government of a free country shouldn’t want surveillance powers like these. And the fact that the government wants them is proof that it shouldn’t have them.”

The goal of the program, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is to construct a “virtual, centralized, grand database” containing every Americans’ electronic transactions, such as credit card purchases, bank and medical records, travel data, e-mails and phone calls.

That information is to be linked with biometric data such as face recognition technology and digital fingerprints, and provided instantly to law enforcement to detect patterns of terrorist activity, the government says.

Spearheading the initiative is former Navy Rear Adm. John Poindexter, a Reagan administration official who was implicated in the illegal sale of arms to the Nicaraguan Contras.

As the anti-privacy aspects of the project have become clear, civil liberties groups and editorial pages around the USA have urged Congress to torpedo the program.

“This project sends a message that every American should find repugnant,” Getz said. “Namely, that politicians and bureaucrats view America as a sea of criminal suspects whose private behavior must be tracked, catalogued and analyzed, just in case they commit a crime.

“So much for the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. Just as in totalitarian states, your rights disappear at the whim of a shadowy government employee intent on spawning another database.

“Unless this Orwellian project is dismantled, innocent Americans will suffer under the kind of high-tech, 24-hour surveillance that the Stasi and the KGB would have envied.”

Like most counterterrorism measures, Total Information Awareness is based on a myth, Libertarians say – the myth that the only way to prevent terrorism is to erode Americans’ freedom.

“But there’s already an effective, constitutional way to gather evidence against any criminal suspect: Go to court and get a warrant,” Getz said. “Call it Total Constitutional Awareness.

“The fact that terrorists destroyed thousands of lives on September 11 doesn’t give politicians the right to destroy the privacy of millions of other innocent individuals. It’s time to tell the government: We are citizens, not criminal suspects. Pull the plug on this un-American spy scheme.”


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