Florida is creating a counterterrorism database to give law enforcement agencies around the country a powerful new tool to analyze billions of records about criminals and ordinary Americans, reports the Washington Post. The federally-supported system, dubbed Matrix, would enable investigators to find patterns and links among people and events faster than ever before, combining police records with commercially available collections of personal information about most American adults. For example it could instantly find the name and address of every brown-haired owner of a red Ford pickup truck in a 20-mile radius of a suspicious event.
The state-level program is poised to expand at a time when Congress has been sharply critical of similar data-driven systems on the federal level, such as a Pentagon plan for global surveillance and an air-passenger-screening system, the Post says. Paul S. Cameron, president of Seisint Inc., the Boca Raton, Fla., company that developed the Matrix system and donated it to the state, said: “It is exactly how law enforcement worked yesterday, except it’s extraordinarily faster. In this age of risks that appear immediately, you have to be able to respond immediately.”
Civil liberties groups fear Matrix will dramatically lower the threshold for government snooping because other systems don’t allow searches of criminal and commercial records with such ease or speed. “It’s going to make fishing expeditions so much more convenient,” said Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology, which monitors privacy issues.
The Justice Department has provided $4 million to expand the Matrix program nationally and will provide the computer network for information sharing among the states. The Department of Homeland Security has pledged $8 million, state officials said. Matrix is short for Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange.
Officials in Washington, D.C., and four large Eastern states plan a more restricted anti-terrorism data-sharing program next month to enable instant searches of law enforcement records by federal, state, and local agencies, the Post reports. Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York will join the Washington’s $4 million, Internet-based Justice Information System, in a cooperative effort among jurisdictions most affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Washington Mayor Anthony Williams said the 911 Connection project was developed with federal support. By limiting the system to available law enforcement records and not storing all available data in a central repository, organizers said they hope to avoid criticism from those who contend that federal data-mining systems proposed for aviation and counter-terrorism are too intrusive. Williams said the pilot program would share criminal justice information “not only for emergency preparedness, but for regular, garden-variety crime-fighting.”