President George W. Bush has ordered stepped-up monitoring of federal computer networks, including government Internet sites, because of stepped up attacks by hackers.
But Bush's secret directive also allows the government to snoop more into private Internet sites as well as data networks that contain information on millions of American citizens.
Bush's executive order, signed earlier this month, is not published for public viewing but sources within the national intelligence community tell Capitol Hill Blue that the order allows snooping into private data networks in Internet sites "in matters involving national security."
According to sources, the system uses the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's "Terrorist Information Network," a vast computer database that collects information, in real time, on millions of Americans' financial transactions, travel habits and purchases.
TIA ties into the private networks of banks, airlines, credit card companies and travel services to monitor the actions of ordinary Americans.
The practice is called "data mining," the use of private information to monitor trends that may fit a pre-determined profile of what the government considers "suspicious" activity.
The system is not monitored by Congress nor it any court order required for it to link into private computers and obtain personal information on Americans.
TIA was originally called the "Total Information Awareness" program but the name was changed to try and obscure the fact that the system was gathering information on ordinary Americas.
This prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to get involved. Jay Stanley, Communications Director for the ACLU, told Congress:
What we have here is a pattern of obfuscatory conduct highly suggestive of a government agency trying desperately to make a frightening program palatable enough for the American people to swallow.
Congress voted to stop funding the project but Bush simply moved TIA into the Pentagon's "black bag" program where federal funds can be spent without Congressional approval or oversight.
"Congress may think they killed TIA but it is alive and well and gathering information daily on Americans," says a former analyst for the National Security Agency. "It listens to your phone calls, monitors your bank accounts, knows when and where your travel and even what you type into your computer. The loss of privacy is no longer question in this country. We lost our privacy when TIA became operational."