With two more states abandoning a controversial police database and a third backing away, Connecticut lawmakers are trying to determine if its usefulness outweighs privacy concerns, says the Hartford Courant. State Reps. Michael P. Lawlor, co-chairman of the judiciary committee, and Stephen Dargan, co-chairman of the public safety committee, will seek more information on the database, which collects detailed personal information on citizens. They plan a public hearing before considering whether state money should be used to support it.
The database, known as Matrix, is funded by federal grants, but Connecticut and other states could be asked to pay for continued access when the grants run out later this year. Connecticut was among 13 states involved in the project. Seven have withdrawn because of privacy or cost concerns. “We’re prepared to write some privacy safeguards into the law – or, if necessary, to force the state to withdraw from the program, depending on what we learn,” Lawlor said.
Matrix – short for the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange – combines criminal, motor vehicle, and other restricted government records submitted by participating states with billions of commercial files held by a private Florida company, Seisint Inc. The system can produce dossiers on individuals, including address histories and property and business records, within minutes. Connecticut state police officials argue that the data in Matrix is already available to police agencies in piecemeal form, and that the new system simply saves time by combining records on a one-stop search engine. The system, launched by Florida authorities with $12 million in federal funds, was designed to aid in detecting would-be terrorists, but is being used for broader crime-solving purposes.
Privacy advocates are concerned about the scope of the data being collected on law-abiding citizens and the potential for errors and abuses. Many view Matrix as a replacement for a Pentagon data-mining effort that was stopped by Congress after privacy concerns were raised.
Of the 13 states that planned to participate, Louisiana, Alabama, and three others have pulled out in recent months. Of the remaining eight states, two decided to withdraw within the last week, and a third – New York -has not supplied any records to Matrix. Utah Gov. Olene Walker last week halted her state’s participation, saying she wanted to look more closely at privacy and security concerns. Georgia cut its ties to Matrix because of similar concerns. That leaves Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania as participants.