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In May of 2003, news broke of a new project underway by DARPA (tech research and development for the Pentagon) to create a system to gather every conceivable bit of information about a person's life, index all the information and make it searchable. The LifeLog program would put everything an individual does into a giant database: every email sent or received, every picture taken, every Web page surfed, every phone call made, every TV show watched, every magazine read. This would be combined with a GPS transmitter to keep tabs on where that person went, audio-visual sensors to capture what he or she sees or says, and biomedical monitors to keep track of the individual's health. DARPA bills it as an intelligent digital assistant and memory aid. However, many people are asking whether there are significant privacy concerns in such an intrusive technology. [Source for this information]
The goal of LifeLog is to create software that helps analyze behavior, habits and routines, according to the Pentagon. [WATIMES] The gigantic amalgamation of personal information could be used to "trace the 'threads' of an individual's life," to see exactly how a relationship or events developed. Someone with access to the database could "retrieve a specific thread of past transactions, or recall an experience from a few seconds ago or from many years earlier...by using a search-engine interface." [WIRED]
LifeLog would go further than previous non-governmental personal database programs, not only recording letters, emails and web pages visited, but also tracking where people go and what they see. It will even add physical information like how a person feels. [WIRED]
Officials claim one of the main purposes for LifeLog is memory assistance for military commanders, and specialized military training assistance that keeps track of how people learn in order to tailor their training. But some defense analysts claim that military application of the project is dubious. LifeLog would collect far more information than needed to improve a general's memory - enough "to measure human experience on an unprecedentedly specific level," according to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. [WATIMES]
In response to a tide of privacy concerns, DARPA changed the LifeLog proposal to require researchers to get permission before capturing data from interactions with non-users. This is only a restriction on the work of the initial researchers, and critics point out that the requirement could be removed later. [WIRED2]
DARPA has concentrated mainly on the single-user application of LifeLog technology. Each LifeLog user could "decide when to turn the sensors on or off and who would share the data," says Jan Walker of DARPA. [WATIMES] However, their own program proposal suggests the possibility of accessing a large number of personal LifeLogs (e.g. to support medical research or detect epidemics early). [DARPA]
LifeLog is not connected with DARPA's attempt at a citizen data-mining project, Total Information Awareness (renamed Terrorism Information Awareness). However, the unclassified products of the LifeLog project would be available to other government agencies. [WATIMES]
Wired News - May 20, 2003 A Spy Machine of DARPA's Dreams [WIRED]
Washington Times - June 03, 2003 LifeLog Privacy Concern [WATIMES]
Wired News - July 14, 2003 Pentagon Alters LifeLog [WIRED2]
DARPA - IPTO Programs: LifeLog Objective and Solicitation [DARPA]
New York Times (via CNN.com) - June 05, 2003 Dear DARPA Diary
Microsoft - MyLifeBits, similar smaller-scale research project by Microsoft Corp.