Antiterrorism authorities would be granted unprecedented access to law enforcement and commercial databases containing billions of records about private citizens under a bipartisan bill to restructure the intelligence system now being debated in the Senate, the Washington Post reports. The proposed network eventually would link hundreds or thousands of local, state, federal and commercial computers. It would enable authorized investigators to draw on details about where suspects live, the cars they drive, their associates, their police records, and their possible ties to terrorist activities.
The network was recommended by the Markle Foundation Task Force, a group of academics, technology executives, and counterterrorism officials seeking to balance anti-terrorism activities with concerns about personal privacy. Police and intelligence officials already have access to vast quantities of government and commercial records, but the information is often dispersed and not readily available. A supercomputer system dubbed Matrix, built by an information service after the Sept. 11 attacks, enabled authorities in participating states for the first time to simultaneously query commercial and confidential police records. Some civil liberties experts criticized that system, which was funded by the federal government, because it was developed in secret and, initially, without clear guidelines.