To fight terrorism, the Information Awareness Office (IAO) of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is planning to develop a system that uses a super database of recorded online transactions and analytical programming that will identify what is referred to as the information signature of a terrorist or terrorist activity before harm can be done. The information signature is really a pattern of electronic data gathered from public and private sources that matches or approximates previously identified patterns. After a terrorist act has occurred, law enforcement agencies are often able to identify who is responsible for the attack by tracing transactional records and following what investigators call a "paper trail". Law enforcement agencies hope to establish a database of paper trails to understand how terrorists prepare for an attack so that they can prevent future attacks.
The Information Awareness Office was established to mandate the development of data mining and knowledge discovery technologies capable of detecting the information signature of a potential terrorist. The Office has established a five-year plan culminating in the delivery of such a capability, which will be called the Total Information Awareness (TIA) system.