>Barbara Simons, Ph.D.


>Total Information Awareness (TIA)




>Barbara Simons was President of the Association for Computing Machinery

>(ACM), the oldest and largest educational and technical computer society

>in the world, from July 1998 until June 2000 and Secretary of the Council

>of Scientific Society Presidents in 1999. In 1993 Simons founded ACM's

>US Public Policy Committee (USACM), which she currently co-chairs. She

>earned her Ph.D. in computer science from U.C. Berkeley in 1981 and has

>worked for IBM as a Research Staff Member, Senior Programmer and Senior

>Technology Advisor. Recently, Simons has been teaching technology policy

>at Stanford University.


>Simons is a Fellow of ACM and the American Association for the

>Advancement of Science. She received the Alumnus of the Year Award

>from the Berkeley Computer Science Department, the Norbert Wiener

>Award from CPSR, the Outstanding Contribution Award from ACM, and

>the Pioneer Award from EFF. She was selected by c|net as one of its

>26 Internet "Visionaries" and by Open Computing as one of the "Top

>100 Women in Computing".


>In its current form, the TIA program being developed by the Department

>of Defense as part of an effort to counter terrorism would involve

>gathering vast amounts of personal information from U.S. citizens to

>compile a database of highly sensitive information, including financial,

>medical, educational, telephone, and travel records.


>Barbara will describe the TIA program and discuss the arguments against

>its deployment contained in the USACM's recent letter to Congress.



Barbara began her talk by explaining that she had first heard about TIA from John Poindexter about six months before the New York Times had broken the story. She was the only technology professional quoted in it because, as the reporter explained to her, everyone else was only willing to talk off the record. Apparently there is much fear among computing professionals that the funding for this or that project could be jeopardized by criticising the current administration's proposed policies.

TIA is a comprehensive approach to putting every piece of information that the government can dig up into the same database, and then creating data manipulation tools to search it for anything about anybody. The idea is that the government can use known patterns of terrorist behaviors to search the database, and hopefully find potential problems before they have a chance to blow anything up. There is also funding in it to create tools for doing biometrics, so that pictures taken by surveillance cameras can be scanned to find the names of people in them and things like that.

Barbara is concerned because there are many cases of insiders taking advantage of access to private information for personal gain with just the databases we have now. She cited the case of the bank employee who sold private information on 30,000 people to scam artists who used it for fraudulent purposes. There are also feasibility issues with some of the biometric ideas. At the moment identifying people from photographs is not easy for computers. Could this problem be solved with $10 Million? Would doing so just give big brother a license to run amok?

TIA is a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Administration) project. Marked down in the budget for FY2003 as a $10 million item, apparently the Administration has big plans for it. Barbara talked about a spot in the budget forecast where it is expected to absorb $240 Million over the next three years. She is very concerned about the consequences of developing extremely sophisticated oversight technology for people whose names became household words during the Iran-Contra hearings.

Barbara finished out her presentation by sharing with us a letter that she and Eugene H. Spafford, Ph.D. had written to the Senate Armed Services Committee, summarizing their perspective. It is an excellent letter, and you can read it at:


Tian Harter