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KEEPING THE SONS OF "TIA" IN CHECK

On this, everyone in the gold-tinged, eagle-frescoed Senate conference room agreed: Federal authorities badly want to be able to comb the data trails of ordinary people in order to spot terrorists. But what -- if any -- limits should be put on that frighteningly invasive power? A panel of lawmakers, think tankers, data miners and civil libertarians assembled here Tuesday couldn't even begin to make up their minds.Congress has yanked the funding for Terrorism Information Awareness, the Pentagon's notorious berdatabase effort. But research into TIA-like projects continues, essentially unrestricted. Tomes of regulations tell spooks and cops and g-men how they can amass intelligence and gather evidence. But much of the data mined by these children of TIA -- like itineraries, school transcripts and credit card receipts -- might not fall under those traditional definitions. There's only a vague sense that these database-combing programs can't be allowed to grow out of control."When somebody buys a ticket on Delta Airlines in Munich, Germany, if there's any potential for (that person to have) a suspicious background, I want bells and whistles to go off on that computer," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told the group of 25 or so policy makers assembled in the Russell Senate Office Building's third floor by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank. But Congress "won't allow (intelligence) agencies" to "truly gather information on people's personal lives."Nice words. But as Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy & Technology, notes, "none of us really have the answer" for how to put them into action.My Wired News report from Washington has more.THERE'S MORE: As usual, Phil Carter has got some interesting things to say about this. Check 'em out here.

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