Created in response to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, the Information Awareness Office (IAO) is a branch of the United States Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) that aims to gather massive amounts of intelligence through electronic sources in order to help avert terrorist acts in the future. A central assumption is that the history of electronic transactions (money transfers, car rentals, e-mail correspondence, Web site usage, and so forth) discernible from past terrorist activity can be used to develop patterns for detecting and raising warnings about developing terrorist activity. Although there are no technologies currently capable of achieving IAO's objectives, the Office has established a five-year plan culminating in the delivery of such a system, which will be called Total Information Awareness (TIA).
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The program's objectives have raised questions about rights to privacy and also about the technological feasibility of managing the very large database that the project would require.