Associated Press (06/03/03); Sniffen, Michael J.
Pentagon documents state that the goal of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) LifeLog project is to develop software that deduces behavioral patterns from monitoring people's daily activities, and DARPA officials say the initiative could be used to improve military training as well as the memory of military commanders. LifeLog volunteers would be equipped with cameras, sensors, and microphones to record everything they feel, everything they do, and everywhere they go; the research is not classified, which means that LifeLog software could eventually be made available to private companies. According to the Pentagon documents, the LifeLog software would not just file geophysical and vital readings, but also emails, instant messages, phone calls, voice mails, snail mail, faxes, and Web-based transactions, as well as links to every radio and TV broadcast the subject hears and every publication, Web site, or database he or she sees. The Center for Government and Technology's James X. Dempsey is concerned that such a tool could impact privacy: He notes that the government can easily get hold of the voluntarily collected information with a search warrant, as well as take such data from third parties via request or subpoena. There are also unanswered questions about how data culled from LifeLog software would be interpreted by government agencies and private organizations, not to mention whether the system will include adequate safeguards to shield Americans from errors. DARPA insists that LifeLog will not be used for clandestine surveillance, and the agency's Jan Walker says there is no relationship between LifeLog and the Pentagon's Terrorism Information Awareness project.
Unless you work for the government or the Mafia, it's a great idea to keep a
I don't mean the minute-by-minute log that Florida Senator Bob Graham keeps
in tidy, color-coded notebooks describing his clothes, meals and haircuts.
That echoes the mythical Greek Narcissus.
Rather, I have in mind the brief notation of the day's highlight, the
amusing encounter or useful insight that will someday evoke a memory of
yourself when young. Such a journal entry perhaps an e-mail to your
encoded personal file can now be supplemented by scanned-in articles,
poems or pictures to create a "commonplace book." You will then have a
private memory-jogger and resource for reminiscence at family gatherings.
But beware too much of a good thing.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, stimulates
outside-the-box thinking that has given us the Internet and the stealth
bomber. On occasion, however, Darpa goes off half-cocked. Its Total (now
Terrorist) Information Awareness plan to combine all commercial credit
data and individual bank and academic records with F.B.I. and C.I.A.
dossiers, which would have made every American's life an open book has
been reined in somewhat by Congress after we privacy nuts hollered to high
Comes now LifeLog, the all-remembering cyberdiary. Do you know those
hand-held personal digital assistants that remind you of appointments, store
phone numbers and birthdays, tip you off to foibles of friends and
vulnerabilities of enemies, and keep desperate global executives in
unremitting touch day and night? Forget about 'em those wireless
whiz-bangs are already yestertech.
Darpa's LifeLog initiative is part of its "cognitive computing" research.
The goal is to teach your computer to learn by your experience, so that what
has been your digital assistant will morph into your lifelong partner in
memory. Darpa is sprinkling around $7.3 million in research contracts (a
drop in its $2.7 billion budget) to develop PAL, the Perceptive Assistant
For those who suspect that I am dreaming this up, get that lumbering old
machine in your back pocket to access www.darpa.mil/ipto, and then click on
"research areas" and then "LifeLog." You are then in a world light-years
beyond the Matrix into virtual Graham-land.
"To build a cognitive computing system," says proto-PAL, "a user must store,
retrieve and understand data about his or her past experiences. This entails
collecting diverse data. . . . The research will determine the types of data
to collect and when to collect it." This diverse data can include everything
you ("the user") see, smell, taste, touch and hear every day of your life.
But wouldn't the ubiquitous partner be embarrassing at times? Relax, says
the program description, presumably written by Dr. Doug Gage, who didn't
answer my calls, e-mails or frantic telepathy. "The goal of the data
collection is to `see what I see' rather than to `see me.' Users are in
complete control of their own data-collection efforts, decide when to turn
the sensors on or off and decide who will share the data."
That's just dandy for the personal privacy of the "user," who would be led
to believe he controlled the only copy of his infinitely detailed profile.
But what about the "use-ee" the person that PAL's user is looking at,
listening to, sniffing or conspiring with to blow up the world?
The human user may have opt-in control of the wireless wire he is secretly
wearing, but all the people who come in contact with PAL and its willing
user-spy would be ill-used without their knowledge. Result: Everybody would
be snooping on everybody else, taping and sharing that data with the
government and the last media conglomerate left standing.
And in the basement of the Pentagon, LifeLog's Dr. Gage and his PAL, the
totally aware Admiral Poindexter, would be dumping all this "voluntary" data
into a national memory bank, which would have undeniable recall of
everything you would just as soon forget.
Followers of Ned Ludd, who in 1799 famously destroyed two nefarious machines
knitting hosiery, hope that Congress will ask: is the computer our servant
or our partner? Are diaries personal, or does the Pentagon have a right to
And so, as the diarist Samuel Pepys liked to conclude, to bed.
A Pentagon project to develop a digital super diary that records
heartbeats, travel, Internet chats ^× everything a person does ^× also
could provide private companies with powerful software to analyze behavior.
That has privacy experts worried.
Known as LifeLog, the project aims to capture and analyze a multimedia
record of everywhere a subject goes and everything he or she sees, hears,
reads, says and touches. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or
DARPA, has solicited bids and hopes to award four 18-month contracts
beginning this summer.
"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 notes that traffic and security cameras and automated tollbooth pass
records are already used by police to trace a person's path. Dempsey
questions how LifeLog's analytical software, in the hands of other
government agencies or the private sector, 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."
Pentagon 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
08:30 a.m. flight from Washington's Reagan National Airport to Boston's
Logan Airport," according to the documents.
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
By Matthew Fordahl
No one disputes that Michelle Zimmermann lost control of her 2002
GMC Yukon as she drove on a two-lane highway in Massachusetts one snowy
afternoon last January. Her friend died after the sport utility vehicle
slammed into a tree.
Miss Zimmermann said she was driving within the posted 40 mph
speed limit, but like millions of other Americans the 33-year-old
didn't know that her vehicle had a "black box." Monitoring her driving,
it recorded the last few seconds before the crash.
Bolstered by data they say indicates Miss Zimmermann was driving
well above the speed limit, prosecutors have charged the Beverly,
Mass., woman with negligent vehicular homicide. She has pleaded not
guilty and faces up to 2� years in jail if convicted.
An estimated 25 million automobiles in the United States now have
event data recorders, a scaled-down version of the devices that monitor
cockpit activity in airplanes. Like aviation recorders, automobile
black boxes mainly receive attention after an accident.
The devices' primary function is to monitor various sensors and
decide whether to fire air bags. Since the 1998 model year, all new
cars from all manufacturers have been required to have air bags and so
most such recent-model cars have the devices. But secondary and more
recently installed features in many recorders store data from a few
seconds before a crash.
Though capabilities vary widely among carmakers, most recorders
store only limited information on speed, seat-belt use, physical
forces, brakes and other factors. Voices are not recorded.
But the devices are finding its way into courtrooms as evidence in
criminal and civil cases, leading some privacy advocates to question
how the recorders came to be installed so widely with so little public
notice or debate.