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US Shuts Down Controversial Anti-Terror Database 238

Posted by Zonk
from the one-less-affront dept.
coondoggie writes "The massive anti-terror database established by the US government has been criticized for keeping track of regular everyday citizens. Computerworld reports that as of September 17th, the database will be shut down. 'The Threat and Local Observation Notices or TALON, was established in 2002 by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz as a way to collect and evaluate information about possible threats to U.S. service members and defense civilians all over the world. Congress and others protested its apparent use as an unauthorized citizen tracking database. The TALON system came under fire in 2005 for improperly storing information about some civilian individuals and non-government-affiliated groups on its database. The Air Force developed TALON... in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a way to gather data on possible terrorist threats. Anti-war groups and other organizations, protested after it was revealed last year that the military had monitored anti-war activities, organizations and individuals who attended peace rallies.'"
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US Shuts Down Controversial Anti-Terror Database

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  • Wink Wink Nod Nod... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by plasmacutter (901737) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:02PM (#20309665)
    Didn't they claim they shut it down before?

    I could swear this program has been "killed" twice, and by "killed" i mean the government's definition: proclaiming a project discontinued while continuing it under a new name. (note: definition also adopted by microsoft regarding the trusted computing project)
    • by zentigger (203922) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:15PM (#20309865) Homepage
      yeah killed, as in kill -1
      • by meatspray (59961)
        Nah, it's most likely dead. (-9) That's what you do to old technology when you replace it with another classified system.
    • No (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mr 44 (180750) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @05:06PM (#20310625)
      No, you are thinking of the Total Information Awareness [wikipedia.org] program, which was very different. That (and its associated programs) were/are datamining everybody's credit reports, public records, etc to find "terrorist patterns".

      This program is unrelated. It's not datamining anything. All this is is a centralized database of threats to DoD installations and personnel. Sure, it has its potential for abuse, but its a very different animal from TIA, and confusing the two does't help anyone.
      • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jafac (1449) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @05:15PM (#20310761) Homepage
        The non-sensationalist version of this story?

        TALON is really just used to schedule when bases need to ramp up security to accommodate peace protester groups. It's actually there to benefit the protesters. Not some scary conspiracy to track them. If a protest is staged at a base, and there isn't enough security, there can be traffic issues, counter-protest issues, saboteurs can use genuine peaceful protests as cover for distraction, there are a lot of legitimate reasons for the operators of a secure facility to have a way to coordinate and even cooperate with protest groups. The army has to do their job; protect the country - but protesters are often "the country" they're trying to protect.

        The mainstream media doesn't report this angle of the story. I don't know why - maybe it's bias, or maybe it's just not controversial (profitable) when told this way.
        • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

          by bobcat7677 (561727) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @05:38PM (#20311025) Homepage
          I find your story explaining their side of it very thin. Downright anorexic even. What you speak of is called a "shared calendar". You don't need a database detailing individuals to keep track of events.
        • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Original Replica (908688) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @08:04PM (#20312465) Journal
          there are a lot of legitimate reasons for the operators of a secure facility to have a way to coordinate and even cooperate with protest groups.

          Unfortunately one of the reasons is to render the protest invisible. When protesters are relocated into "first amendment zones" they are most often out of sight of the political figures they are trying to make aware of their outrage, and the protesters are out of sight of the press covering the political event being protested. The entire point of a protest is to disrupt an event or the regular flow of life. If UN delegates cannot get into the UN because of the thousands of protesters around it, that sends a message to the world. If those same thousands of protesters are herded into a park half a mile away, there is no message(other than a big "go fuck yourself" to the protesters) With things like first amendment zones and hate crime (punishing the intent not the actions) and seperating suspected terrorists from the Geneva Convention rights (again punishing intent) and databasing protest groups right along with with terrorist groups, we are rapidly criminalizing certain thoughts and ideals. We are well along the path towards outlawing any passionate dissent in our country. What is freedom if not the right to passionately and vocally disagree with the established powers?

          I am not actually against the War in Iraq, I don't want the spread of Shira law and I think it is right for free nations to fight it. But I do think the way this war has been run is criminal, and many of the actions taken in the name of "The War on Terror" are treason. If I want to express this patriotism and thus end up on a database/watchlist created to protect the government from "threats". What does this say about the legitimacy of any protester tracking program?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by StikyPad (445176)
            That's not actually true. There are lots of bases that get protested, and the military is trained to take it, but to be ready for threats. (Lots of people getting riled up can cause a few people to go too far). There are no "first amendment zones" around military bases; the protests typically take place at the main gate. The guards have to A) ensure that traffic in and out of the base isn't impeded, and B) be ready for threats ranging from thrown items to a full scale assault.

            What you describe is a civi
          • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Kjella (173770) on Wednesday August 22, 2007 @03:08AM (#20315315) Homepage
            I am not actually against the War in Iraq, I don't want the spread of Shira law and I think it is right for free nations to fight it.

            1) It's Sharia law
            2) Saddam wasn't ruling by anything remotely close to Sharia law
            3) There's now a good chance Iraq will be ruled by Sharia law

            In short, your position makes no sense.
    • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @05:17PM (#20310787) Homepage Journal
      plasmacutter, I think it goes something like this:

      "We're "shutting down" the database (fingers crossed behind our backs) but that doesn't mean we're going to delete all that data. See, we're just turning off the Microsoft Access front end that the administrative assistant in D-ring made back in June. We don't have anybody available who can actually "delete" any data, so we'll just leave it alone, but we promise (both hands behind their backs now) that we won't really use it."

      I'm really pretty shocked that with all that's gone on, that no media outlet has reported on the fact that the latest wire-tapping law that was passed the last day before congress went on vacation was signed by Bush, but...he actually added a signing statement that says, uh, he really doesn't have to follow the law because hey, he's the president and terrorists are trying to kill us after all..

      So, even though the law that was passed was EXACTLY the law the President wanted, because it was actually written by Al Gonzales and his assistants, he STILL doesn't have to obey it because... HEY LOOK OVER THERE! A TERRORIST!! BEHIND THAT TREE!1!!

      The most disturbing part of this whole mess is that the media, the Democrats, nobody will say shit about this unprecedented power grab because at heart they are all authoritarians who want to forget all about this "Constitution" nonsense so MONEY CAN BE MADE.

      People can say that this is nothing new, that when the Civil War was on Abe Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, and Roosevelt limited rights during WWII, but that's just a crock. In both those cases, Lincoln included, the presidents went to congress and got their permission to limit freedoms and for a limited amount of time. Bush is going solo on this one and since the Global War on Islamonaziliberalism is The Forever War, we'll never again have to bother with civil liberties, rights or privacy. Freedom has become obsolete in just the term of one president.

      Amazing.

      Fortunately, I've got faith in the belief in liberty held by many of the bright folks here at Slashdot, and I'm expecting a civil uprising against the surveillance culture to come in the form of hackers and other whitehat miscreants who will fight to put fat monkey wrenches into the efforts of the guys over at NSA. Hell, I'm not surprised if there are still a few patriots over in the NSA who might be building some backdoors into this machinery. Well, one can hope.

      The fight isn't over, but it's important for us to start recognizing the enemy. And guess what: he's not wearing a towel on his head.
      • was signed by Bush, but...he actually added a signing statement that says, uh, he really doesn't have to follow the law because hey, he's the president and terrorists are trying to kill us after all..


        Well, he does that for pretty much all laws. It's a real stroke of fortune he never signed the Constitution.
    • Think of this database as a cat. It has nine lives, and loves to hide.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jc42 (318812)
      I could swear this program has been "killed" twice, and by "killed" i mean the government's definition: proclaiming a project discontinued while continuing it under a new name.

      This sort of thing has been reported for US government agencies for decades. Back when all the data was all in paper archives, there were lots of reports of agencies that "obeyed" orders to destroy them by first running them through copiers, transporting the copies to some other site, and then destroying the originals. I recall duri
    • by Agripa (139780)
      Didn't they claim they shut it down before?

      That is the beauty of it. Just wait until they shut it down again.
  • Shut down (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Scrameustache (459504) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:03PM (#20309667) Homepage Journal
    And replaced by..?
  • by Absolut187 (816431) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:03PM (#20309669) Homepage
    This database will just be replaced by a more secretive version under another name that we will never hear about.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Starcom8826 (888459)
      How on earth does something like this get "Insightful" ? If it will get replaced, then you can just say "see, I told you so" despite apparently not being more secretive. If it doesn't, then you can say "well, they're more secretive." There's absolutely no way you can disprove such a statement.
      • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:27PM (#20310071) Journal
        There's absolutely no way you can disprove such a statement.

        That doesn't mean it's not true. Experience suggests it is.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Starcom8826 (888459)
          Not exactly, I'd say experience suggests that it may be replaced by something that is supposed to be secretive but we find out about it anyways.
          • Yeah. When (if) you're old and retired and the information is declassified.

            Are absolutely all documents regarding WW2 declassified yet?
      • by PitaBred (632671)
        God? Is that you?
    • by Dr Caleb (121505)
      "And TALON will be replaced by?"

      The Moya Database.
  • Shut down (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@@@optonline...net> on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:03PM (#20309671) Journal

    The data will be archived, then a year or two down the road will resurface as some new system. Now that they've collected all this data, don't think for a second they will let it go quietly into the night.

  • by jellomizer (103300) * on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:03PM (#20309675)
    Then turned on back again only when it is needed... It is not about privacy it is about running green. Using less power by turning off the database when you don't need it.
  • by downix (84795) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:03PM (#20309677) Homepage
    The problem with these closed systems, any closed system really, is the inability to find and locate not only the errors, but the correct data either. The more erroneous data there is, the less likely one will find and retrieve the needed data. If anything, you get a "security through obfuscation" situation, but you're giving the security for the folk you need to target!

    Keep your lists pruned and accurate. And the best method for this is with open and honest auditing in the public light. Not necessarily by the public themselves, but with public employees such as in the judicial system. Trained, skilled and non-biased eyes are always the best tools to not only perform oversight, but to keep this country or any country safe and secure.
    • by twitter (104583) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:15PM (#20309855) Homepage Journal

      The problem with these closed systems, any closed system really, is the inability to find and locate not only the errors, but the correct data either.

      The real problem is that people are collecting the data in the first place. People have no idea how much information is being stored about them by companies like ChoicePoint and how that data is just a request away from anyone. This is collected without their knowledge, permission or benefit. It is always used against them. At the very least, vendors and service providers should have to disclose what they are collecting and who they sell it to. At the best, most of it would be against the law to collect. Technology has created new threats and new laws need to be made to counter these threats that economic advantage alone won't eliminate.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Chyeld (713439)
        While avocate strongly for the right to privacy, to complain that there are groups out there collecting information on people is the height of trying to put the genie back in the bottle.

        We are in the INFORMATION AGE. Your information is going to be collected whether you like it or not. What you should be agitating for is more responsible use of that information by the collectors and consumers and more education on what information being collected and how for the 'targets'.

        What you should be agitating for is
        • by Abcd1234 (188840)
          While avocate strongly for the right to privacy, to complain that there are groups out there collecting information on people is the height of trying to put the genie back in the bottle.

          Oh please. This is, at best, a non-sequitor, at worst a strawman argument. This isn't about "putting the genie back in the bottle". This is about setting regulations and guidelines for how this data can be used. Canada has already passed laws to this effect, which seem to be working fairly well. The only reason the US d
          • by Chyeld (713439) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .dleyhc.> on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @05:40PM (#20311039)
            Yes and what that means is that the programs which collect the information either base themselves outside of Canada or they aren't publizied in Canada. If you honestly think that those laws actually mean that NO ONE has the indicated information collected, you are fooling yourself.

            The US had laws about spying on its own citizens. How well did that turn out?

            The US made promises that the SSN would ONLY be used in relation to Social Security matters, that it wouldn't be used as a universal "ID" tag. How well did that turn out?

            You _are_ trying to put the genie back in the bottle when you attempt to paint 'passing another law' as the solution.

            What used to be publicly available but extremely tedious to collect has become child's play to obtain. People slept too long under the impression that "security through obscurity" was a horrible way to lock down a computer system but perfectly ok to use to lock down their private life. It's too late to complain about it being out there. Maybe there should have been stronger safeguards. Maybe it shouldn't have been public. It DOES NOT MATTER, it's already out there.

            The information brokers today are people who operate above the board, but do you honestly think that if you made their business illegal there wouldn't be groups out there ready to play the part of the Mob in our little play of modern Prohibition? People are already out there selling pre-made kits for identity theft, CC#s, and other such black market 'information.

            What sort of fun could be had if we all just pretended the information wasn't out there and we were 'safe' to continue to use the old methods of doing things because it was 'illegal' to use the information that way.

            No, you won't have to worry about your supermarket knowing what you buy and sending you coupons. No, you won't have to worry about web sites saying "Looking for pills? Try BRANDX!" Instead you'll be wondering why your credit rating is in the shitter and find out that it's because you've been the target of 10 different identity theft scams. You'll find out that your credit card has been canceled because the bank has had enough of dealing with fradulent charges and simply cuts you off the first time you report one. Instead you'll come home to badly worded email threating to forward your boss every posting you've ever made online unless you start paying a 'fee' every month to keep the info buried. Or come home to a squad of SWAT police ready to knock down your door because someone put their face on an ID with your information on it before strolling into a bank and shooting up the place.

            What should be done is to minimize the amount of damage that can be done with that information. You aren't going to stem the flow, so stop trying to put up dams and instead work on routing the water around the places you care about. Start teaching people how to keep their public life and their private life seperate. Start teaching banks that no, it's not ok to just accept every CC application you receive and dump the costs of fraud on the consumer and the merchant. Start teaching companies, that they shouldn't be using SSN as a replacement employee identification.

            You aren't going to remove the ability to get this information, I'm sorry. Canada and the UK had a far easier time of it because they aren't the size of the US. What flies there doesn't always fly here, and it's not always about lobbies or will.
        • by twitter (104583)

          Don't waste your time on trying to 'control' what is being collected, the bad guys won't pay any heed and the good guys already have enough problems on their plate. Instead, spend your time on pushing for this information to be handled responsibly and INTELLIGENTLY, and not just as an afterthough.

          The only way to stop misuse is to stop collection. A grocer, for example, will not collect or store identifying information if that's against the law. They then won't be able to sell your alcohol, birth contro

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by h2_plus_O (976551)

        The real problem is that people are collecting the data in the first place.

        That's not a problem. The problem is that some will abuse that information somehow. Really, the problem is that we use crappy public secrets like our mother's maiden name, our address, or our SSNs to secure our identities.

        There's no way in hell to stop people from gathering public information. For SURE new laws won't. After all, it's alredy illegal to abuse the data in the first place. Another new law would be just about as

    • by NMerriam (15122) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @05:26PM (#20310893) Homepage

      The problem with these closed systems, any closed system really, is the inability to find and locate not only the errors, but the correct data either. The more erroneous data there is, the less likely one will find and retrieve the needed data.


      That's only a problem if you actually expect to get highly accurate useful intelligence out of the system.

      The beauty of the real world is that even though everyone with expertise knows the system is buried in useless data, the 19-year old with the M4 who just found your name in the database considers it gospel that you're a terrorist, the 40-year old cop with his knee on your windpipe thinks he just stopped the next 9/11, and everybody involved gets a medal and a budget increase for protecting us from the bad guys.

      Nobody ever has to know that the only reason you were in the database in the first place is because you walked down the wrong street on your way to lunch 9 months ago and stopped to gawk at a WTO protest.
  • Computerworld reports that as of September 17th, the database will be shut down.

    You can trust me - I'm from the government. Would I lie to you?

    On a more serious note, how in the world could anyone actually verify this?

  • by Irvu (248207) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:06PM (#20309717)
    By "shutting it down" do they mean that they will simply stop adding new data to it? Or stop using it? Or will they locate every copy of every bit related to them and erase them? This would include all bits stored in backup tapes, offsite, etc.

    In any case what happens to the data? Will this be magically "forgotten" Will all records that came from the database and got copied to other departments (e.g. FBI files) be deleted as well?

    That's the trouble with data collection. Once it is collected it may never disappear.
  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:08PM (#20309731)
    I'm sorry, but the summary only explains the acronym twice, when I require a minimum of 3 times before I can be certain of its meaning.
  • by saforrest (184929) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:11PM (#20309801) Homepage Journal
    Can whomever applied the "slashdotliberalwhining" tag to this article, presumably a self-described conservative or libertarian, please explain how a government that engages in surveillance of provably nonviolent political activism is exactly "small"?

    The cognitive dissonance here is just staggering.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by rootofevil (188401)
      libertarians would not complain about the closure of a government anything.
    • by Nimey (114278)
      I suspect the taggers are trolling.
    • Maybe we NEED government to spy on political activists.
      I mean, imagine all the terrorist acts that MLK might have committed if the government hadn't had him killed in time...

      Only a liberal like you could get confused by something so simple.
      Let me spell it out for you, hippie:
      The government watches YOU, not the other way around.
      You DO NOT question the government, or you will be shot.

      Any questions?
  • by achbed (97139) * <(gro.debhca) (ta) (ds)> on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:13PM (#20309831) Homepage Journal
    I'll believe it when (a) an indpendent agency - not a government one, but someone like the ACLU - verifies that they watched the procedure of wiping the drives per DoD standards of data erasure, and (b) pigs fly. Even if they invite an independent auditor in to watch the erasing and decommissioning of the database, you know for a fact there's a second (or third, or fourth) copy out there, simply for redundancy and disaster recovery. And I really doubt that the Bush administration will allow anyone into their secret data lairs. This is more PR to get the monkey to shift shoulders for a while.
    • by syousef (465911)
      I'll believe it when (a) an indpendent agency - not a government one, but someone like the ACLU - verifies that they watched the procedure of wiping the drives per DoD standards of data erasure

      Yes because if an agency agreed to that the data could not possibly have been copied before it was so publicly wiped?

      Almost anything passes for "insightful" here lately.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:24PM (#20310017)
    I am a cynic, but could it be that we are supposed to forget 'til then that something like this existed and continue to be good citizens and vote 'em in again?

    But most likely it's just going to be replaced by a less public version, so we don't question our leader's intentions.
  • liberal whining? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dR.fuZZo (187666) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @04:33PM (#20310147)
    This is tagged as slashdotliberalwhining? I thought limited government used to be a conservative ideal. Everything the current administation does isn't automatically "conservative" just because the President is a Republican.
  • So that gives them what... 27 days to copy all of that data to another database? If they're going to shut down a database, why do they need to wait all that time? Just shut it down now. It's not like it needs a cooldown period or something. Delete it before some last-minute tool can get in there and mess with it.
  • It's more secure.

    I, for one, welcome our new corporate-governmental Orwellian database overlords.
  • .... Soviet Russia seems better all the time. At least they're honest about stuff like this.
    • by Nimey (114278)
      If you think the Soviets were honest about that, you haven't looked at any Soviet-era propaganda, the stuff that the proles were meant to see.
  • So... who did they sell the database to? :(
  • So any guesses on how long it will take for some report to surface that the hard disks or printouts from this were stolen or lost after the close it down?

  • by k1e0x (1040314) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @05:08PM (#20310651) Homepage
    The only reason they would come out and say, "Ohh you all were right and we are going to end this project." Is because they must have something better. Otherwise they would defend it, and tell us we needed it.. also why wait 2 months? Because the new system must be in testing..

    May I ask who is being held accountable for implementing this citizen tracking system? Wait, let me guess.. nobody as usual, right?

  • ..or the thousands of private databases across this world tracking everything from purchases made with Visa to issuance of a visa? In effect, we did...we all 'clicked through' something long ago, but for some reason, the government, on a mission to find the terrorists among us, are not permitted?

    To think this is the only one...to think the government is the only agent-of-study...it's all kinda naive, isn't it?
  • Do the chicken-hawks have large TALONs?
  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @06:52PM (#20311803) Homepage Journal
    While the original article does say that the TALON database will be shut down - and acknowledges that there's uncorrected errors in the data - there's some things that aren't made clear.

    For example, the database isn't going to be deleted - it's just getting moved to a different agency. They'll give it a different name, but that database will live on. And those errors in the data? Nobody said anything about correcting them.

    So it's really a "Tom shuts it down then gives it to Bob who turns it right back on" kind of deal. Politics as usual...

  • "US Shuts Down Controversial Anti-Terror Database" basically means that the database has been elevated to top secret status.
  • "Congress and others protested its apparent use as an unauthorized citizen tracking database."

    Meanwhile, Congressional approval ratings drop to 18% [pollingreport.com].
  • Ron Paul has voted against this sort of thing over and over again. This is all the more reason to get him into the Presidency.

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