A Pentagon data mining program eliminated by Congress five years ago amid fear of domestic spying has been duplicated at the National Security Agency (NSA), according to sources cited by The Wall Street Journal.
The NSA work exploits personal “transactional” data provided by private companies and other government agencies. The information includes e-mails, Internet searches, credit card transactions, travel, and telephone records, according to unidentified “current and former intelligence officials,” the article states.
The Journal’s Siobhan Gorman writes:
…sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA's own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge's approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.
Soon after 9-11, the Pentagon’s Information Awareness Office (IAO) launched a program called Total Information Awareness (TIA). It's goal: mining data domestically and overseas to spot terrorist trends. Civil libertarians balked, as did Congress.
Federal law forbids the Department of Defense (DoD) from engaging in domestic law enforcement activity. Prior to 9-11, the NSA only eavesdropped overseas.
The DoD changed the program’s name to Terrorism Information Awareness, with little affect on public or political opinion. In 2003 Congress killed IAO by eliminating its funding. Less controversial IAO initiatives migrated to other government intelligence agencies.
As Congress debates ongoing domestic surveillance issues, civil liberties groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are saying “I told you so.”
Barry Steinhardt, head of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project, said the reported activity “brings together numerous programs that we and many others have fought for years, and it confirms what the ACLU says the NSA is up to: mass surveillance of Americans.”