January 15, 2003

Wyden Calls For Congressional Oversight, Accountability of Total Information Awareness Office

Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, as the Senate moves to the spending bill, I rise to discuss briefly an amendment I will be offering. It is an amendment I discussed with colleagues on both sides of the aisle. It is an amendment that would limit the scope of the Office of Total Information Awareness. This is a program that is now being directed by retired Admiral John Poindexter, the former National Security Adviser to former President Reagan. It is one that raises a number of important issues that have arisen in our country since the horrific events of 9/11. Given the fact that our country is engaged in fighting a war against an enemy without boundaries, clearly we must, as a Nation, take steps that constantly strive to balance the rights of our citizens against the need to protect the national security of our Nation. My concern is the program that has been developed by Mr. Poindexter is going forward without congressional oversight and without clear accountability and guidelines. That is why I think it is important for the Senate, as we reflect on the need to fight terrorism while balancing the need to protect the rights of our citizens, to emphasize how important it is a program like this be subject to congressional oversight, and that there be clear accountability. On the Web site of this particular program, the Total Information Awareness Program, they cite a Latin slogan -- "Knowledge is power" -- something we would all agree with, and state: The total information awareness of transnational threats requires keeping track of individuals and understanding how they fit in to models. To this end, this office would seek to develop a way to integrate databases into a "virtual centralized grand database." They would be in a position to look at education, travel, and medical records, and develop risk profiles for millions of Americans in the quest to examine questionable conduct and certainly suspicious activity that would generate concern for the safety of the American people. I am of the view the Senate has a special obligation to be vigilant in this area so we do not approve actions or condone actions by this particular office that could compromise the bedrock of this Nation: our Constitution. I sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I know it is a difficult job to find and maintain the proper balance between constitutional rights and the need to thoroughly track down every valid lead on terrorism, but I will tell you, Mr. President, I think it is critically important that the Senate have oversight over this program, and we make sure there is not a program of what amounts to virtual bloodhounds. We need to make sure there are guidelines and rules so that there has to be, for example, evidence there is activity that could threaten the country before additional intrusive steps are taken and, second, that there are safeguards in place at a time when it is possible, because of modern technology and new databases, to share information very quickly. The fact is much of this information is already being shared in the private sector, and that is why so many Americans are troubled about the prospect of losing privacy right now. What is of concern to many about the Office of Total Information Awareness is it will take the current policies that threaten the privacy of the American people and magnify those problems, given the fact we have not been informed as to what safeguards and constitutional protections would be in place when this program goes forward. It is time for the Senate to put some reins on this program before it grows exponentially and tips the balance with respect to privacy rights and the need to protect the national security of this country in a fashion that is detrimental to our Nation. Clearly, to fight terrorism, we have to have the confidence of the American people. In doing so, we are protecting their rights. My concern is the Office of Total Information Awareness, as it is constituted today, tips that balance against the procedural safeguards that are needed to protect the rights of millions of Americans while fighting terrorism. That is why I will be offering an amendment on the spending bill to limit the scope of the office. That amendment will not prevent those in the administration who support the program to come back at a later date and show why additional threats warrant additional action. It will ensure that as this program is developed in its early days it is done in a fashion that is sensitive, with constitutional protections and safeguards, while still ensuring that our Nation can fight terrorism.I yield the floor.