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Published: Monday, 6/9/2003

George Orwell calling

You don't have to be a Luddite - a person opposed to technological change - to look askance at the downright creepy stuff taking shape in the back corridors of the Pentagon.

We refer specifically to what's going on at the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA.

This is the agency that is soaking up taxpayer dollars by the millions with the likes of Total Information Awareness, a program that seeks to gather all manner of data about as many people as possible - personal, financial, travel, and so on - and analyze it for clues to terrorist activity.

The program so spooked members of Congress concerned about invasion of privacy on an Orwellian scale that it was renamed Terrorism Information Awareness. Problem fixed? Not exactly.

Now comes LifeLog, DARPA's attempt to build a digital record of a human being's life - everything a person sees, hears, says, feels, and touches in everyday activity. The information would be captured by cameras, microphones, and even biomedical sensors and stored on a searchable computerized database.

Individuals would volunteer to undergo this total personal scrutiny, and valuable insight likely would be gathered about human behavior and relationships. But it doesn't take much imagination to see how such an experiment could be manipulated and abused into a tool for surveillance and a gross invasion of personal privacy.

Despite disclaimers by DARPA that LifeLog won't be used for spying on the public, privacy advocates are correct to be concerned that the project may turn out to be the logical extension of Total Information Awareness.

In other words, the dreaded Big Brother come alive, watching you, and them, and us.

It would be foolish and not a little paranoid to dismiss the scientific usefulness of such research out of hand. But no serious military application has been identified, and the people running the Pentagon these days seem to be more concerned about sweeping assertions of “national security” than they are about the privacy rights of the American people.

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