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A modest security proposal


By Scott Bradner


The news yesterday was that the US Senate had cut all funding for the Defense Department's research on its Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) program.  I think that was a good thing to do but I expect it was a futile gesture. Maybe it is time to just surrender to the inevitable and start planning for a life of transparency, for the people if not for the government.


The signs are all around us.  TIA, which used to be known by a name that far better described its purpose: Total Information Awareness, is only the most public of the signs.  This program was envisioned as being able to gather all of the information available on everyone in the world.  Well actually not everyone, much of the world's population does not get anywhere close to the kind of electronic system that TIA would get its data from.  The asserted rational of discovering terrorists is so transparently absurd that one is left with the inescapable conclusion that the real purpose is to create a detailed electronic history of everyone they can. 


Tying together every sort of electronic tidbit you leave behind when you do anything these days with the about to omnipresent radio frequency identifier (RFID) that will be part of everything you buy, wear or use will enable the government to know on a minute-by-minute basis what you are up to and who you are up to it with (since everyone you would meet is also being tracked).  Toss in the new airport scanner that shows you in your birthday suit (warts and all) and the Mach-3 cam (see,3605,999866,00.html) and its cousins and the government will know much more about you than you do.  I, for one tend to forget where I was at a particular time of day a week or a month back, it would be wonderful to have this memory aid but I suppose they will not let me see my own record so I'll have to make due with my mess of neurons.


I suppose the next step will be to add miniature microphones to the RFIDs so the government computer can listen in on your plotting to violate the do not walk on the grass signs.


I will admit that this would be a boon to a government. Society would be so much safer and more pleasant when the government can simply push a button to find out who was last to be near that wad of discarded chewing gum. 


But the benefits do not stop at the government.  Private industry, which is collecting most of the information that is planned to go into TIA, would be able to offer all sorts of new helpful services.  For example, the logic extension of the Mach-3 cam is to check to see if you also need Grecian Formula hair dye - a box could leap into your shopping basket if you do.


 If you have the same feeling of control that a rat in a fully transparent maze does, welcome to the club.


disclaimer:  Some Harvard students may feel like they are in a maze, but it's far from transparent.  Anyway the above bad dream is my own (I hope).