As law enforcement agencies drop out of the national terrorism and crime database called Matrix over privacy and cost concerns, the Pennsylvania State Police remains committed to it.
A year ago, 13 states had signed on the $12 million program to create a mega-database of criminal and other publicly available records for local law enforcement. Pnly six states, including Pennsylvania, remain in the project, which began a test phase in November, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Lt. Col. Ralph Periandi of the Pennsylvania State Police said the system allows agencies to tap into 15 to 20 more databases of publicly available information, such as civil court files, bankruptcy filings, corporate data, property assessments and deeds, boat and plane registrations, and address information. “These are records that we always have had access to,” said Periandi, a member of the Matrix executive board. “This is just speeding up the process.”
Stephen Gale, a terrorism expert at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, said there is a need to give law enforcement officers better information tools. “But given the public’s expectations about privacy, it’s very hard to see how we could put together any kind of information base that’s any good or effective,” he said.
Periandi said Pennsylvania is providing Matrix with data in four categories: criminal records, prison data, sexual-offender information, and motor-vehicle registrations. He said Matrix would not include financial records, credit reports, medical records, or voter information. Periandi said only 24 officers and intelligence analysts in the Pennsylvania State Police are cleared to access Matrix – all of whom have gone through background checks and will be subject to periodic audits.
Periandi said Matrix works like this: A trooper stops someone for speeding, calls in the license and vehicle numbers, and learns that the person is the subject of an active investigation. Only at that point, an intelligence analyst at the Harrisburg headquarters may access Matrix to relay more information to the trooper. “This is not designed to be utilized for every routine police contact,” Periandi said.