Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

tia.jpgGood show US democracy! Now if you can just shut down that war of yours.

Is there still a pulse in the badly injured body of American democracy? Cynics will say that it will go underground, but I choose to believe that the US Congress has succeeded in shutting down the ultra-panoptic Total Information Awareness program -- the scheme to protect Americans from tyranny through total dataveillance of our every move. I say yay. Maybe those telephone calls you and I made to our Congressional representatives made a difference.
Virtually without dissent, the House conferees accepted a bipartisan Senate provision written by Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, and Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, stipulating that the program cannot be used against American citizens. The conferees also agreed to end research on the program — in effect shutting it down — in 90 days unless the Pentagon submits a detailed report on the program's cost, goals, impact on civil liberties and prospects for success against terrorists. What this means, in effect, is that if the program continues at all, it will be as a low-intensity research project under close Congressional supervision.


I'd like to think that the reason the Orwellian TIA program failed is because of a new consensus on civil liberties and privacy issues between left and right.

I know that the Republicans like to portray themselves as friends of civil liberties. (Even though a precious few of them really are, IMO.)

But I think the chances of that being the case are very slim. :(

To the contrary, I suspect that the Total Information Awareness program failed because of a much more mundane reason. Tax cheating.

It's obvious. Cheating on taxes (by using offshore tax shelters, for example) has (according to the IRS) become widespread.

The Bush administration's core constituency, the affluent Republican right, is extremely anti-tax and many of them probably utilize such shelters.

The current situation with (intentional?) lack of funding for the IRS is preventing the effective enforcement of many existing tax laws.

The administration's goal is probably ultimately replacing most of these laws with a 'flat tax' (which many have said is highly regressive.)

It's clear that a program such as TIA would almost certainly uncover (using data mining), a huge amount of data that could easily be queried in such a way that it would be easy to finger tax cheats.

In the face of the massive deficits we in the US face soon because of Bush's planned massive tax cuts, the IRS might feel compelled (by necessity) to act on this data. At that point, it would be politically hard for ShrubCo.(TM) to stop tactfully. So they are dropping it. Doing such a big favor for the IRS would not be in keeping with their anti-tax agenda.

This may not be what really happened.. I mean, I have not heard anything about a debate on this subject.. but its what I suspect.

What do people think? Does that have the ring of truth to it?

Chris, what you're saying is entertaining, but it's purely speculative. Here, let me take it apart:

You say that the Bush administration's core constituency is the "affluent Republican right," who didn't want TIA, yet somehow the administration pushed TIA and it took Congress to stop it?

Also, if it was the "affluent Republican right" who wanted it shut down, why was it Ron Wyden, a Democrat with serious cred, who led the charge to shut it down?

There. That was easy.

Joi, good entry, but you missed the TIA's new logo. It's much friendlier. Even Pooh would like the new logo! I feel better about TIA already.

You can see it in my blog here. Now, catch up on your RSS feed! :-)

(Now that I think about it, John Poindexter kind of looks like Pooh. Evil Felonious Pooh, but Pooh.)

I actually got the old logo from your blog Frank. I like the old one better. It's scarier and probably represents the feelings of the rank and file troopers more then the cleansed one. ;-)

I hope y'all are enjoying your self-satisfied, snotty Bush-bashing. While data-mining is banned, everyone near me (I live in the DC area) is rushing out to get duct tape to defend themselves against terrorism. I'd prefer to see our Constitution defended with checks and balances, not Luddism

What is sad is that the individuals in government don't even bother hiding how they (congress, etc) cater to special interests. And special interests are defined by how much money they bring to the table, not by how they represent the sectors of the public who need a voice in government.

That logo is so darn scary and creepy, you'd think someone designed it with the express purpose of freaking people out. It sure freaked me out. Maybe the graphic designer who did it was actually being....subversive?

Arnold, you're swinging with an awfully big bat there. While I do not count myself as a supporter of the Bush administration, having disagreed with many of its strategies and tactics, I just posted a blog entry arguing for a war in Iraq. Thoughtful criticism and "self-satisfied, snotty Bush-bashing" aren't exactly the same thing.

As for the rest of your comment, what do duct tape and TIA have to do with one another? Is the US under a heightened sense of terror alert? Yes. Has the government suggested that people purchase duct tape and plastic sheets in case of chemical or biological attack? Yes. (Do many people view this as a ludicrous suggestion? Yes.) But I fail to see how any of this leads one to the idea that it's reasonable to set up a massive data-mining effort to collect and collate vast amounts of information on every single American.

I am not against *a* war to liberate Iraq, I am just highly suspicious of *this* administrations motives for it. After all, until a few months ago the word "human rights" was anathema to Bush.

I hope he proves me wrong.

But after his father's appalling record in Central America and in a zillion other places, and the younger Bush's regressive political agenda and his cabinet choices of these aging cold-warriors who can't seem to get a clue, while we lose all of the hard-won gains of these last few years, I am highly skeptical.

I am not out in the field on this, the American public opinion seems to agree..

It is my humble opinion..Bush is weakening America.

I DO think we need to put more of a focus on civil defense.. It could reduce mortality in any kind of terrorism situation.

They de-emphasized it during Reagan's and Bush I's reign because they felt that it was helping the no-nuke movement.. or so I understand..

I actually saw a presentation about TIA a few months ago. All I will say is that if you thought the logo was ludicrous, you should have seen the first two minutes of the video.

However, from what I heard, it wasn't all bad. The concept was designed to allow some degree of oversight on how the database was used.

(Contrast this with the situation with private sector databases in the US, where anybody can get access to any database they like. And it isn't just credit information either. Did you know that Aristotle has a database that categorises American voters by voting preference, as well as by extensive demographic measures?)

I suspect the reasons for TIA's failure had a lot to do with the internal machinations of what is humorously known as the US Intelligence Community. One of the lessons from 9/11 was that the various intelligence services have to find ways of working together, but this is a political hot potato. TIA can be seen as part of a (fruitless) effort to resolve this.

(Of course it has to be said that the PR was pretty crap too.)

Also, it is not completely dead. It is not inconceivable that they will come back to Congress with the reassurances on privacy that were demanded.

I just read that there may be another more serious reason why this administration is so desperate for war in Iraq - Petro Dollars. You can read the full anlaysis here. Sometime late in 2000, Iraq did something most of the arab nations thought was foolish by switching from petro-dollars to petro-Euros. At the time Euros were not that strong against dollars, since then the Euro has gained over 17% against the Dollar. The Dollar is being increasingly scrutinized for its potential instability. The idea goes, that we are going into Iraq to convert Iraqi oil back to Petro-dollars and to pre-empt the rest of Opec from following Iraq's lead.

Since the Dollar has been up to this point, used as the Worlds Reserve Currency, a conversion from petro-dollars to Euro's by OPEC, would mean a catastropic crash in the dollar of between 20-40%. If such a crash were to happen, the US economy would spiral into a massive deflationary depression.

I'm against war as much as anyone, but if this is the case, I can't help but feel at some gut level the unfortunate necessity to go to war just out of mere self-preservation. After reading this analysis, I'm left with a big hmmmmmm, I just don't how I feel about that war now.

Thank you for posting the link to the article.. Its a very good one. But I disagree with you about the situation being reason enough to start a war. It isn't, and it could backfire, I'm almost sure it would backfire.

I would tend to go with the author's opinion that any actions that would tend to create fear that the US was becoming a 'rouge nation' would only turn into a factor promoting a move away from the dollar as standard currency.
Doesn't that seem more plausible after reading the article? It's a scary thought but it makes sense.

Bluntly, if what the author "WC" says is true, we URGENTLY need to start promoting fiscal responsibility (read, stop cutting taxes, stop running deficits) and increasing energy conservation efforts instead of living in denial and even starting wars in a shallow attempt to hide and delay the inevitable accounting housecleaning that we need to do. Or the US could experience a burst bubble that would make the Asian bubble seem tiny in comparison.

This argument makes total sense to me. Ive recently been reading a bit about the financial situation in the 20's and I see a lot of parallels between that era and the geopolitical situation now.

Lets hope we dont repeat history .. it would be terrible..

We need some real debate on the issues discussed in this article.. now..

Lookout, folks, Poindexter's Total Information Awareness is making a quiet comeback... And it smells like Congress may have known it would.

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