Speaking at a recent data conference in New York, chief technology officer Ira Hunt of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) commented on the increasing quantities of available information – including emails, videos, and tweets – in the current digital age. Regarding the prevalence and applications of such digital information, Hunt states that:
The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time. Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.
With the enhanced abilities of computers to compute massive quantities of information, Hunt’s statements depict the CIA’s aspirations in accumulating and mapping large sets of data, a sentiment reflected in the agency’s recent contracts with industry giants such as Amazon.com. In this instance, this contract specifically focuses on cloud computing software, in that Amazon will aid the CIA in constructing a private cloud system, potentially for hosting sensitive and classified information that would otherwise be susceptible to security concerns in the public technological domain. The CIA’s efforts are reminiscent of certain programs undertaken by the National Security Agency (NSA), which has conducted such investigations despite public worries over privacy and related Fourth Amendment concerns. One such critic of the NSA is whistle-blower William Binney, whose was recently interviewed by filmmaker Laura Poitras for her documentary short regarding post-September 11th America. Having publicly admonished the NSA, Binney (who resigned from the agency in 2001) described a foreign intelligence program conducted by the NSA that focused upon classified domestic spying, which he believes to have been initiated shortly after September 11th. As reported by the New Yorker:
“Binney and a team of some twenty others believed that they had pinpointed the N.S.A.’s biggest problem—data overload. ThinThread, the “little program” that he invented to track enemies outside the U.S., “got twisted,” and was used for both foreign and domestic spying: “I should apologize to the American people. It’s violated everyone’s rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world.”
Such data programs espouse distinct similarities with a former Department of Defense (DOD) project known as the “total information awareness” program, which was “based on a vision of pulling together as much information as possible about as many people as possible into an ‘ultra-large-scale’ database.” However, in 2003, Congress de-funded the Defense Advanced Research Projects Area’s (DARPA) total information awareness program, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had often likened to the “Big Brother” project of the current era. In essence, the aforesaid CIA and NSA programs represent instances in which the executive has significantly expanded its power though its replication of policies that Congress has expressly rejected.