Origins of the Modern Surveillance State
Ten years before the recent global panic over the U.S. government’s domestic spying program, the Pentagon solicited contractors for a searchable database of people’s lives.
In 2003, the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) hoped to create a database that would amass everything about the life of a person participating in the project, ranging from GPS coordinates to every email and phone call sent and received.
The participant would wear a camera, microphone and sensors to record the minutia of everyday life. The program, called Lifelog, would act as a person’s digital diary.
Lifelog was a feature of DARPA’s Perceptive Assistant that Learns (PAL) program, which was meant to create intelligent digital personal assistants.
DARPA hoped the database would further research in artificial intelligence. It would take the data gathered from consenting participants and map out relationships and events found in the data.
After privacy advocates voiced concerns that effectively brought Lifelog to a halt in 2004, DARPA rebooted its attempt to create PAL technology several months later by tailoring the project with a military focus in order to assuage critics.
Private sector versions of PAL technology also emerged on the market in later years, Apple’s Siri being a direct descendant of DARPA’s PAL initiative.
DARPA would not confirm any connection between the National Security Agency’s surveillance database technology, such as PRISM, and DARPA’s PAL program.
The revelations about the U.S. government’s counter-terrorism surveillance apparatus, however, illuminate how both governments and corporations effectively collect data on the commercial and personal activities of everyday life.
Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Daily Caller that there are options for people, and they don’t have to accept the destruction of personal privacy as the new normal.
“There are economic and political incentives that are very hard to fight, no-one questions that,” Tien said.
“We didn’t want the Patriot Act after 9/11, but we couldn’t stop it,” he said, “but just because you couldn’t stop it then doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to fight it now.”