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Wednesday | August 06, 2003

Welcome to the Matrix

By Steve Gilliard

In a clever runaround after Congressional outrage over the TIA program, the DOJ is is funding a new, Florida-based program called "The Matrix". Created by someone who offered to be a federal drug informant, who's already lost several contracts because of his background, this will allow state and federal officials to correlate criminal and private databases.

Organizers said the system, dubbed Matrix, enables 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. It would let authorities, for instance, 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, aided by federal funding, is poised to expand across the nation 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

DOJ, despite clear and overwhelming Congressional disapproval, decided to fund a similiar, highly intrusive program, but on the state level. In many ways, this makes TIA looks like childplay.

At least 135 police agencies in the state have signed up for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement database service, which began operation more than a year ago. At least a dozen states -- including Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan -- said they want to add their records.

In some ways, Matrix resembles other data-driven counterterrorism initiatives started since the 2001 attacks. The Pentagon's controversial Terrorism Information Awareness program also sought to use personal data in new ways, but on a far larger scale.

What is even more surprising is the background of the man who is developing the software.

In 1999, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI suspended information service contracts with an earlier Asher-run company because of concerns about his past, according to law enforcement sources. The Chicago Tribune reported in 1987 that court documents in a federal drug case said defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey, who identified Asher as a pilot and onetime smuggler, offered him as an informant.

DEA dropped contracts because they thought he was dirty, yet, DOJ will cut a deal with him to develop higly intrusive software that the Congress refused to support on the federal level,

While proponents claim this information is already available to law enforcement, none of it is available correlated. Simply put, the Matrix will combine your credit history, criminal record and address into one, easy to read database and your inclusion has nothing to do with your criminal history. An abusive police officer husband could use this to track and terrorize an ex-spouse as easily as it could track a supposed terrorist. Information could be illegally sold to criminals, detective and other interested parties as well.

TIA was rejected by Congress because of its potential of abuse. Now, DOJ is funding a project by someone who's already lost federal contracts and is now willing to create a deeply intrusive database with massive potential for abuse.

It's no coinicidence that Florida would bite on such a system. With a history of incredibly inept recordkeeping, high levels of crime and fugitives and immigration, it would seem to solve many of their problems. The problem is that previous database collection efforts, like checking voter rolls, have turned out disasterous in the past. The system turned out to be error-filled and disenfranchised thousands of black voters.

Also, there is no guarantee that this system will be accurate. Clairol and contact lenses can invalidate any number of searches.

We assume that this capacity exists, mainly because of set designers in movies. Hit a buttun, up comes a dossier and current address. In reality, it can take days and court orders to compile all this information. The problem is that the potential for abuse is tremendous and there is no guarantee that this information will not be turned against the government by corrupt officials.

This is an unwise program, one which, in the end, will be subject to Congressional investigation and lawsuits. Instead of relying on common sense and trust, yet another dubious, politically dangerous techological solution is drawn up.

Posted August 06, 2003 08:15 AM


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