23
Okt
2004

Surveillance and the War on Terrorism

What's in a name?

Ask any CEO about the power of branding, and you'll get an earful. Most corporate chiefs would give anything to have the positive brand recognition of a Coke, a Kodak or a Google. The architects of the surveillance state are using brand management, too, but with precisely the opposite purpose: to escape negative recognition. A case in point is a provision in an intelligence reform bill that passed the Senate last week. It calls for a "trusted" government surveillance network. Few have forgotten the Defense Department's doomed surveillance proposal, Total Information Awareness. It would have comprehensively scanned the commercial activities and communications of all Americans in an attempt to weed out terrorists. It was lamely rebranded "Terrorism Information Awareness" before Congress terminated the program. But Total Information Awareness may not stay dead all that long. The Senate intelligence bill, now being reconciled with similar House legislation, calls for a new "trusted information environment." The bill is, at best, ambiguous about how widely it would sweep as it conscripts privately held data for surveillance purposes.

Of course, Congress cannot decree that such a network will be "trusted." That is up to the American people. If government investigators are going to put citizens' eBay listings and credit-card records in the same pool as information about Hamas leaders, one doubts that trust will be forthcoming. And calling this surveillance network an "environment" will not make it more palatable either.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/10/15/EDGAB99A971.DTL


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