Total Information Awareness

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Seal of the Information Awareness Office[1][2]
(motto: lat. scientia est potentiaknowledge is power[3])

Total Information Awareness (TIA) was a program of the US Information Awareness Office. It was operated from February until May 2003, before being renamed as the Terrorism Information Awareness Program.[4][5]

Based on the concept of predictive policing, TIA aimed to gather detailed information about individuals in order to anticipate and prevent crimes before they are committed.[6] As part of efforts to win the War on Terror, the program searched for all sorts of personal information in the hunt for terrorists around the globe.[7] According to Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), TIA was the "biggest surveillance program in the history of the United States".[8]

The program was suspended in late 2003 by the United States Congress after media reports criticized the government for attempting to establish "Total Information Awareness" over all citizens.[9][10][11]

Although the program was formally suspended, its data mining software was later adopted by other government agencies, with only superficial changes being made. According to a 2012 New York Times article, the legacy of Total Information Awareness is "quietly thriving" at the National Security Agency (NSA).[12]


Adm. John Poindexter, the Director of the Information Awareness Office, who resigned in 2003 after TIA was dismantled by Congress[12]

Early developments[edit]

The earliest version of TIA employed a software called Groove, which was developed in 2000 by the American software industry entrepreneur and inventor of Lotus Notes, Ray Ozzie. The software developed by Ozzie makes it possible for analysts at many different government agencies to share intelligence data instantly, and it links specialized programs that are designed to look for patterns of suspicious behavior.[13]

Congressional restrictions[edit]

On 24 January 2003, the United States Senate voted to limit the TIA program by restricting its ability to gather information from electronic mails and the commercial databases of health, financial and travel companies.[14] Several months later, with increasing public outrage, Congress agreed to terminate the program and cease its funding.[15]

In May 2003, Total Information Awareness was renamed as Terrorist Information Awareness.[16]


The goal of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program was to revolutionize the ability of the United States to detect, classify and identify foreign terrorists – and decipher their plans – and thereby enable the U.S. to take timely action to successfully preempt and defeat terrorist acts.

To that end, the TIA program objective is to create a counter-terrorism information system that:

1. Increases information coverage by an order of magnitude, and affords easy future scaling

2. Provides focused warnings within an hour after a triggering event occurs or an evidence threshold is passed

3. Automatically queues analysts based on partial pattern matches and has patterns that cover 90% of all previously known foreign terrorist attacks

4. Supports collaboration, analytical reasoning and information sharing so that analysts can hypothesize, test and propose theories and mitigating strategies about possible futures, so decision-makers can effectively evaluate the impact of current or future policies and prospective courses of action.[17]

Scope of surveillance[edit]

As a "virtual, centralized, grand database”,[18] the scope of surveillance includes, among others, credit card purchases, magazine subscriptions, web browsing histories, academic grades, bank deposits, passport applications, driver's licenses, toll records, judicial records, divorce records, etc.[10]

Health information collected by TIA include drug prescriptions,[10] medical records,[19] and individual DNA.[20]


Critics allege that the program could be abused by government authorities as part of their practice of mass surveillance in the United States. In an op-ed for The New York Times, the American author William Safire called it "the supersnoop's dream: a Total Information Awareness about every U.S. citizen."[10]

Hans Mark, a former director of defense research and engineering at the University of Texas, called it a "dishonest misuse of DARPA".[4]

The American Civil Liberties Union launched a campaign to terminate the full implementation of Total Information Awareness. If implemented, it would "kill privacy in America" because "every aspect of our lives would be catalogued".[21] The San Francisco Chronicle criticized the program for "Fighting terror by terrifying U.S. citizens".[22]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 2008 British television series The Last Enemy, Total Information Awareness (TIA) is portrayed as surveillance database that can be used to track and monitor anybody effectively by putting all available government information in one place.

See also[edit]

  • LifeLog - The U.S. government's log of an individual life[23]


  1. ^ "Information Awareness Office". DARPA. Archived from the original on 30 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Tim Dowling. "What does the Prism logo mean?". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 November 2013. The Prism logo is slightly more opaque than the one used by the US government's Information Awareness Office, which boasted an all-seeing eye atop a pyramid, casting a golden light across an adjacent planet Earth. 
  3. ^ Hendrik Hertzberg (December 9, 2002). "Too Much Information". The New Yorker. Retrieved 30 November 2013. The Information Awareness Office's official seal features an occult pyramid topped with mystic all-seeing eye, like the one on the dollar bill. Its official motto is "Scientia Est Potentia," which doesn't mean "science has a lot of potential." It means "knowledge is power." 
  4. ^ a b Weinberger, Sharon (24 January 2008). "Defence research: Still in the lead?". Nature. Nature Publishing Group. pp. 390–393. doi:10.1038/451390a. Retrieved 7 December 2013. Poindexter and his office proved to be more polarizing than expected; its Total Information Awareness programme (later changed to Terrorism Information Awareness), which aimed to sift through huge amounts of data to track terrorists, was attacked on privacy grounds, and Congress eventually cancelled it. “That was a dishonest misuse of DARPA,” says Hans Mark, a former director of defense research and engineering now at the University of Texas at Austin. 
  5. ^ Ryan Singel (07.14.03). "Funding for TIA All But Dead". Wired (magazine). Retrieved 7 December 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ Murray, N. (4 October 2010). "Profiling in the age of total information awareness". Race & Class 52 (2): 3–24. doi:10.1177/0306396810377002. 
  7. ^ JOHN MARKOFF (November 9, 2002). "Pentagon Plans a Computer System That Would Peek at Personal Data of Americans". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  8. ^ "Pentagon's 'Terror Information Awareness' program will end". USA Today. AP. 2003-09-25. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  9. ^ Jonathan Turley (November 17, 2002). "George Bush's Big Brother". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c d WILLIAM SAFIRE (November 14, 2002). "You Are a Suspect". The New York Times. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  11. ^ "U.S. agencies collect, examine personal data on Americans". The Washington Times. May 28, 2004. Retrieved 19 December 2013. The most widely reported data-mining project — the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness (TIA) program — was shut down by Congress because of widespread privacy fears. The project sought to use credit-card, medical and travel records to search for terrorists and was dubbed by privacy advocates as a “supersnoop” system to spy on Americans. 
  12. ^ a b SHANE HARRIS (August 22, 2012). "Giving In to the Surveillance State". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  13. ^ "TECHNOLOGY; Many Tools Of Big Brother Are Now Up And Running". The New York Times. December 23, 2002. Retrieved 7 December 2013. 
  14. ^ ADAM CLYMER (January 24, 2003). "Senate Rejects Privacy Project". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 December 2013. 
  15. ^ "Congress Dismantles Total Information Awareness Spy Program; ACLU Applauds Victory, Calls for Continued Vigilance Against Snoop Programs". American Civil Liberties Union. September 25, 2003. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  16. ^ ADAM CLYMER (May 21, 2003). "AFTEREFFECTS: PRIVACY; New Name of Pentagon Data Sweep Focuses on Terror". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  17. ^ "Total Information Awareness (TIA) System". DARPA. October 3, 2002. Archived from the original on October 3, 2002. 
  18. ^ Anthony M. Townsend. "Your city is spying on you: From iPhones to cameras, you are being watched right now". Salon (website). Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  19. ^ Ron Wyden (January 15, 2003). "Wyden Calls For Congressional Oversight, Accountability of Total Information Awareness Office". United States Senate. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 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 
  20. ^ Pat M. Holt (October 2, 2003). "Driving dangerously with the Patriot Act". Retrieved 19 December 2013. The Defense Department is leading the charge for what it calls Total Information Awareness, a massive database including DNA. 
  21. ^ "Q&A on the Pentagon's "Total Information Awareness" Program". American Civil Liberties Union. April 20, 2003. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  22. ^ ROB MORSE (November 20, 2002). "Fighting terror by terrifying U.S. citizens". San Francisco Chronicle . Retrieved 21 December 2013. 
  23. ^ "Pentagon Explores a New Frontier In the World of Virtual Intelligence". The New York Times. May 30, 2003. Retrieved 19 December 2013.