A seven-state crime database started with $12 million in federal funds is a major privacy threat, charges the American Civil Liberties Union. Law enforcement officials and the private firm operating the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, or Matrix, say it is merely an investigative tool that helps police quickly gather available data on suspects.
The Associated Press reports that the ACLU and other privacy advocates allege that Matrix closely resembles an abandoned Pentagon plan to to use a vast pool of data for spotting patterns useful in terrorism investigations. Congress cut off funding for the Total Information Awareness program after criticism.
The ACLU said a federal Freedom of Information Act request yielded documents including minutes of a 2002 planning meeting that said the FBI, the Secret Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration helped prepare data-mining software for Matrix. That was more federal involvement than previously disclosed.
AP said Clay Jester, Matrix coordinator for the Institute for Intergovernmental Research, the nonprofit group helping expand the project called comparisons to the Pentagon plan “a fallacy” resulting from misconceptions about Matrix.
Matrix lets states share criminal, prison, and vehicle data with each other and cross-reference it with up to 20 billion records in databases held by Seisint Inc. The project now involves Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah. In all, about 450 law enforcement agents can access Matrix. Other states are not taking part over concerns about privacy or cost, including Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas.