Controversial Pentagon Program Scuttled, But Its Work Will Live On

Total Information Awareness moves into the shadows of a classified intelligence program

4 min read

26 September 2003—Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA), a U.S. defense department program to mine credit card, medical, travel, police, and other governmental data, is being disbanded. Originally called Total Information Awareness, TIA got nothing but bad press, because of its Orwellian name, mission, and origin as the brainchild of Admiral John Poindexter, a prominent figure in the ”Irangate” scandal that tarnished Ronald Reagan’s second term.

A joint House-Senate appropriations conference committee voted on 24 September to defund TIA through 2004, along with its bureaucratic parent, the Information Awareness Office (IAO), a branch of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) that Poindexter had headed. But the committee allowed some programs to continue under different offices and agencies. The effect, ironically, will be to make some TIA programs less visible and less accountable. ”Killing the Information Awareness Office is a positive first step,” says David Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Washington, D.C.), ”but it doesn’t eliminate the government’s datamining initiatives. It drives them underground.”

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How the FCC Settles Radio-Spectrum Turf Wars

Remember the 5G-airport controversy? Here’s how such disputes play out

11 min read
This photo shows a man in the basket of a cherry picker working on an antenna as an airliner passes overhead.

The airline and cellular-phone industries have been at loggerheads over the possibility that 5G transmissions from antennas such as this one, located at Los Angeles International Airport, could interfere with the radar altimeters used in aircraft.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images
Blue

You’ve no doubt seen the scary headlines: Will 5G Cause Planes to Crash? They appeared late last year, after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration warned that new 5G services from AT&T and Verizon might interfere with the radar altimeters that airplane pilots rely on to land safely. Not true, said AT&T and Verizon, with the backing of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which had authorized 5G. The altimeters are safe, they maintained. Air travelers didn’t know what to believe.

Another recent FCC decision had also created a controversy about public safety: okaying Wi-Fi devices in a 6-gigahertz frequency band long used by point-to-point microwave systems to carry safety-critical data. The microwave operators predicted that the Wi-Fi devices would disrupt their systems; the Wi-Fi interests insisted they would not. (As an attorney, I represented a microwave-industry group in the ensuing legal dispute.)

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