Pentagon project to track behavior of individuals
Device would record, analyze people's movements
Washington ? Coming to you soon from the Pentagon: the diary to end all diaries — a multimedia, digital record of everywhere you go and everything you see, hear, read, say and touch.
Known as LifeLog, the project has been put out for contractor bids by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the agency that helped build the Internet and that is now developing the next generation of anti-terrorism tools.
The agency doesn’t consider LifeLog an anti-terrorism system, but rather a tool to capture “one person’s experience in and interactions with the world” through a camera, microphone and sensors worn by the user. Everything from heartbeats to travel to Internet chatting would be recorded.
The goal is to create breakthrough software that helps analyze behavior, habits and routines, according to Pentagon documents reviewed by The Associated Press. The products of the unclassified project would be available to both the private sector and other government agencies — a concern to privacy advocates.
DARPA’s Jan Walker said LifeLog is intended for users who give their consent to be monitored. It could enhance the memory of military commanders and improve computerized military training by chronicling how users learn and then tailoring training accordingly, officials said.
But John Pike of Global Security.org, a defense analysis group, is dubious the project has military application.
“I have a much easier time understanding how Big Brother would want this than how (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld would use it,” Pike said. “They have not identified a military application.”
Steven Aftergood, a Federation of American Scientists defense analyst, said LifeLog would collect far more information than needed to improve a general’s memory — enough “to measure human experience on an unprecedentedly specific level.” And that, privacy experts say, raises powerful concerns.
DARPA rejects any notion LifeLog will be used for spying. “The allegation that this technology would create a machine to spy on others and invade people’s privacy is way off the mark,” Walker said.
She said LifeLog is not connected with DARPA’s data-mining project, recently renamed Terrorism Information Awareness. Each LifeLog user could “decide when to turn the sensors on or off and who would share the data,” she added. “The goal … is to ‘see what I see,’ rather than to ‘see me.”‘
One critic sees a silver lining in the government taking the lead.
“If government weren’t doing this, it would still be done by companies and in universities all over the country, but we would have less say about it,” said James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology, which advocates online privacy. Because the government is involved, “you can read about it and influence it.”
DARPA’s Web site says the agency investigates ideas “the traditional research and development community finds too outlandish or risky.”
But in LifeLog’s case, some similar technology already is being funded and researched by well-heeled outfits.
Professor Steve Mann of the University of Toronto has spent 30 years developing a wearable camera and computer, progressing from intricate metallic headgear to dark frame eyeglasses and a cellphone-sized belt attachment. He’s working with Samsung on a commercial version.
And Microsoft’s Gordon Bell scans his mail and other papers and records phone, Web, video and voice transactions into a computerized file called MyLifeBits. The company may include the capability in upcoming products.
Neither Mann nor Bell intends to bid on DARPA’s project. Bell said DARPA wants to go further than he has into artificial intelligence to analyze data.
The Pentagon agency plans to award up to four 18-month contracts for LifeLog beginning this summer. Contracting documents give a sense of the project’s scope.
Cameras and microphones would capture what the user sees or hears; sensors would record what he or she feels. Global positioning satellite sensors would log every movement. Biomedical sensors would monitor vital signs. E-mails, instant messages, Web-based transactions, telephone calls and voicemails would be stored. Mail and faxes would be scanned. Links to every radio and television broadcast heard and every newspaper, magazine, book, Web site or database seen would be recorded.
Breakthrough software would automatically produce an electronic diary that organizes the data into “episodes” of the user’s life, such as “I took the 8:30 a.m. flight from Washington’s Reagan National Airport to Boston’s Logan Airport,” according to the documents.
LifeLog’s software also “will be able to find meaningful patterns in the timetable, to infer the user’s routines, habits and relationships with other people, organizations, places and objects,” DARPA told contractors in an advisory.
Walker said DARPA has no plans to develop software to analyze multiple LifeLogs. But DARPA advised contractors that ultimately, with proper anonymity, data from many LifeLogs could facilitate “early detection of an emerging epidemic.”
Dempsey, the privacy advocate, says his concern is that users ultimately won’t control LifeLog data.
“Because you collected it voluntarily, the government can get it with a search warrant,” he said. “And an increasing amount of personal data is also available from third parties. The government can get data from them simply by asking or signing a subpoena.”
He cites examples from current technology such as traffic cameras and automated toll booth passes that police already use to trace a person’s path. Dempsey questions how LifeLog’s analytical software will interpret such data and how Americans will be protected from errors.
“You can go to the airport to pick up a friend, to claim lost luggage or to case it for a terrorist attack. What story will LifeLog write from this data?” he asked. “At the very least, you ought to know when someone is using it and have the right to correct the ‘story’ it writes.”