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Data-mining advisory group at Defense may continue work

The independent advisory committee established to examine privacy concerns with the development of data-analysis technologies at the Defense Department is leaning toward recommending that it be made permanent, as suggestions mount that such research be continued.

But details of the committee's composition remain to be worked out, committee members said after a two-day meeting of the Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee (TAPAC).

Meanwhile, the committee is "seeking clarification" of reports that research for a Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) project at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) may be transferred to other agencies, TAPAC Chairman Newton Minow said after a Tuesday meeting of the committee.

Out of concern for citizens' privacy, Congress stopped TIA funding in the fiscal 2004 Defense appropriations bill still to be signed by the president. Minow said the committee is interested in reports that some TIA functions will be transferred to the Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM). INSCOM conducts foreign intelligence work, which Congress agreed to let continue TIA-like activities.

"We understand our charge is beyond TIA," Minow said. He also noted that a confidential annex to the appropriations bill might contain more details on plans for data-mining research and that the act creating the Homeland Security Department encouraged data mining.

TAPAC has eight members, including lawyers from top national firms who have worked without pay, according to Minow. Minow, counsel to the Sidley Austin Brown and Wood law firm in Chicago, indicated after the meeting that the current committee members would not seek to continue but that an advisory body would be recommended in some form.

The committee's report and recommendations are not due until March. The next meeting will be held Nov. 20-21 in Washington.

Committee member William Coleman, a senior partner at O'Melveny and Myers in Washington, said, "I think there should be some way to keep an eye on these issues."

Committee member Zoe Baird, president of the Markle Foundation, said on Monday: "We were chartered to look at issues related to TIA in the Department of Defense. The question is whether we continue looking beyond TIA. The issues are as important today as before."

In the Tuesday meeting, TIA contractors said a need still exists for their technologies. They defended DARPA's mission as a research agency but generally agreed that the public reaction to TIA had not been well handled. Panelists described privacy technologies under development for DARPA and said their funding may be doomed by Congress's action.

"I'm assuming we are killed ... when the president signs the bill," Brian Sharkey of the contractor Hicks and Associates told the committee. But Sharkey said after the meeting that the actual language of the bill could mean that his work continues. "I imagine I will get a phone call some day" to say his project is still funded, he said.

A second panel of privacy experts and technologists debated whether privacy issues related to technology should be addressed by policy or by researchers in the lab.