Responding to a Senate effort to block all funding for its controversial Total Information Awareness Program (TIA), the Pentagon now says it will establish two oversight boards to ensure that the program doesn't violate the privacy rights of Americans. The TIA program is a project of the Information Awareness Office (IAO), which is under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and is headed by former Reagan administration national security advisor John Poindexter.

The program aims to capture the "information signature" of people in order to track potential terrorists and has been sharply criticized by privacy and civil liberties groups. Last month, Sen. Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.), attached an amendment to a spending bill that would kill the Bush administration's $20 million funding request for the program.

According to a Pentagon statement, the two boards, one internal and one external advisory committee, will oversee TIA in order to make sure the program is developed in in accordance with "U.S. constitutional law, U.S. statutory law and American values related to privacy."

The internal board will consist of senior Department of Defense (DOD) officials and will set the policies and procedures for internal use of TIA-developed data mining tools. The external board will deal with policy and legal issues raised by the program.

Wyden claims the TIA is seeking to develop a way to integrate databases into a virtual centralized grand database.

"They would be in a position to look at education, travel, and medical records, and develop risk profiles for millions of Americans in the quest to examine questionable conduct and certainly suspicious activity that would generate concern for the safety of the American people," Wyden said. "I am of the view the Senate has a special obligation to be vigilant in this area so we do not approve actions or condone actions by this particular office that could compromise the bedrock of this nation: our Constitution."

Wyden added, "It is time for the Senate to put some reins on this program before it grows exponentially and tips the balance with respect to privacy rights and the need to protect the national security of this country in a fashion that is detrimental to our nation."

Wyden's measure is not yet law. The amendment is attached to a Senate spending bill and still must survive a joint House-Senate negotiating committee that will thrash out differences between the two bodies' budget proposals. After that, both the House and the Senate must then approve the deal between the negotiating committee before moving on to President Bush for final approval.