MATRIX: Myths and Reality

Document Date: February 10, 2004

MATRIX: Myths and Reality

Through a series of state “”Freedom of Information Act”” requests, the ACLU has begun to learn more about the secretive program known as the Multi-State Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (MATRIX).

Documents obtained by the ACLU make it clear that there is a great deal of misinformation being spread about the program by the program’s law enforcement boosters as well as the private company that runs it.

A lot remains unknown about this secretive program – for example, what type of commercial data it contains, how it is being used to monitor Americans, and how much it will cost. But documents from state and federal authorities and the officials that run the program enable us to separate myth from reality. Especially instructive were the minutes of the state and corporate officials overseeing the MATRIX program.

Myth: The MATRIX is about fighting terrorism.

Reality: The MATRIX has little to do with terrorism.

Like so many surveillance programs today, MATRIX is being pitched as a means of stopping terrorists (for example, the Total Information Awareness program suddenly became “”Terrorism Information Awareness”” in the face of growing public and Congressional opposition). But it seems clear that the real aim and utility of the program is in everyday law enforcement. For example, a promotional pamphlet obtained by the ACLU from Florida describes 15 different examples of how the MATRIX can be used, but only one has any relationship to terrorism; the rest are everyday law enforcement activities.[1] A 12-page memorandum governing the sharing of information between MATRIX and the state of Pennsylvania never once mentions terrorism or terrorist activities.[2]

Myth: MATRIX does not utilize data mining.

Reality: Data mining has always been one of the most important components of the MATRIX program.

MATRIX officials have claimed that the program does not include the highly controversial practice of law enforcement “”data mining,”” in which an automated computer program scans through the records of everyone – criminal and innocent alike – in a search for patterns that are thought to suggest wrongdoing. But the documents obtained by the ACLU contain numerous explicit references to data mining, including meeting minutes of the MATRIX board,[3] presentations by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement[4] and in FDLE budget documents.[5] In the application by the Institute for Intergovernmental Research for the original $4 million Department of Justice grant that funded MATRIX, for example, one of the four objectives of the program that were listed was to “”develop and pilot test a model data mining and integration system for terrorist and other intelligence information.””[6]

Myth: MATRIX contains information that has always been routinely available to law enforcement.

Reality: MATRIX gives law enforcement unprecedented access to enormous stores of commercially available information.

MATRIX appears to include a mix of corporate data, court records and other data compiled by private industry, and records provided directly by the states. This information includes property ownership, address history (including all the people an individual has ever lived with), business and corporate information, marine vessels, U.S. directory assistance, public utility services connections, bankruptcies, liens and judgments, UCC filings, FCC pilot information, hunting and fishing licenses, gun licenses, professional licenses, voter registrations, and U.S. domain names. The MATRIX also includes drivers license data from 15 states, criminal offender information from 35 states and court data from parts of 15 states including felony, misdemeanor and traffic violations going back decades.[7]

Those records are apparently only the tip of the iceberg. MATRIX records obtained from Connecticut, Florida and Michigan, claim the ability to access billions of records. This is in addition to all the other government data available from other states such as drivers’ license information and criminal offender records.[8]

The federal government has paid more than $9 million to a private company,[9] Seisint, Inc., the sole business of which is to sell and manipulate commercial data. It is impossible to know how much data it has received on private citizens for its money.

Myth: MATRIX is run by states.

Reality: MATRIX is almost completely funded by the federal government.

Documents make clear the substantial role of the federal government in this program, which raises the question of whether the MATRIX is at least in part an attempt by federal authorities to cultivate a data mining system that will not attract the attention or oversight of a program like Total Information Awareness, the Pentagon program shut down by Congress.

According to documents obtained from Connecticut, MATRIX has received $12 million in federal funding – $4 million from the Department of Justice and $8 million from the Department of Homeland Security.[10] The DHS intelligence analysis center has access to its records.[11] And documents obtained by the ACLU reveal that not only were federal officials present at organizational meetings[12], but that a “”data mining application, called FCIC Plus”” was developed “”with the help of the FBI, INS, DEA, and the U.S. Secret Service.””[13]

The only contributions by the states so far have been the unknown costs of compiling their own data. However, MATRIX will eventually cost states large sums to maintain their presence in the system. When Texas withdrew from the system they estimated the cost as more than $1.7 million annually.[14]

Myth: The accuracy of data in MATRIX is checked before law enforcement takes action.

Reality: There is no guarantee that the accuracy of the data will be checked and every reason to believe that it won’t be.

Time after time, both government and private databases have been revealed to be riddled with errors, and MATRIX will be no different. In fact, the contract between MATRIX and Seisint (the private company supplying MATRIX with data) states that it cannot guarantee the “”correctness or completeness”” of data in the system.[15] States that utilize the system are responsible for “”assuring that any information relied upon is accurate, current, valid, and complete.””[16] However, MATRIX “”Success Stories”” consistently describes law enforcement taking action based solely upon the information contained in MATRIX.[17]

Myth: MATRIX has adequate security measures in place.

Reality: State agencies have raised serious concerns about the safety of data in MATRIX.

When a system like MATRIX brings various sources of information together to create detailed dossiers on individuals, security must be a top concern. But apparently issues remain; the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety raised a number of concerns regarding the security of the MATRIX system.[18] As of the fall of 2003, Seisint seems to have no procedure to change passwords for access to the MATRIX system.[19] , In addition, because the MATRIX database has to be refreshed with a complete copy of state records, a full copy of a state’s drivers’ license data or other confidential data must be sent to MATRIX every month, leaving it very vulnerable to theft.[20]

Myth: Information in MATRIX is only available to employees of law enforcement organizations.

Reality: A number of private individuals have access to the MATRIX.

At least 15 Seisint employees have access to the MATRIX database.[21] Hank Asher, Seisint’s founder, had access to this system before court records revealed that he was an unindicted co-conspirator in a group responsible for bringing more than $150-million worth of cocaine into Florida in a single year.[22] Further, it was Asher’s former company that administered the contract that stripped thousands of African Americans from the Florida voter rolls before the 2000 election, erroneously contending that they were felons.[23] It was a full year after the program began before Seisint Inc. performed background checks on employees involved with MATRIX.[24]

Myth: MATRIX is controlled by the state of Florida.

Reality: A private company, Seisint, Inc., has complete control over the MATRIX system.

Hank Asher, Seisint’s founder, first conceived the MATRIX system,[25] and all the information in the MATRIX is housed in the company’s computers.[26] MATRIX utilizes the company’s private commercial databases[27] and Seisint’s employees provide all technical support for the system.[28] For all practical purposes Seisint controls everything in the MATRIX and every application it performs.

Myth: MATRIX is different from the Total Information Awareness system (TIA).

Reality: MATRIX shares almost every characteristic of the federal effort to monitor private citizens.

Like John Poindexter’s infamous Total Information Awareness system that was shut down by Congress, MATRIX brings together information on individuals from diverse sources – various government records as well as more than 20 billion commercial records[29] – and uses a computer data mining tool to scan those records in a search for signs of wrongdoing.[30] It is paid for almost completely by the federal government.[31] Most importantly, it wipes out privacy by making the ever-increasing list of individuals’ activities that are recorded by private or public entities subject ever after to scrutiny by the authorities.[32] What the government couldn’t sell through a Pentagon program, it is now trying to accomplish at arm’s length through the states.

[1] FACTS Success Stories, 1/26/04, pamphlet obtained from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

[2] Memorandum of understanding between the Pennsylvania State Police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, signed 3/30/2003; Memorandum of understanding between the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for the purpose of sharing data to be searched against the proprietary databases of Seisint Inc. These memos were obtained from the Pennsylvania State Police.

[3] Meeting Minutes, 10/7/2002

[4] An undated presentation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement describing $4 million Department of Justice grant budgets $1,573,500 for data mining.

[5] Exhibit D-3A, Expenditures by Issues and Appropriation Category dated 6/13/2003 states that $1.6 million is required for “”Combining the many different data sources into one system and utilizing data mining technology.””

[6] IIR Grant, grant application to the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, from the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR) entitled “”AN APPLICATION TO PROVIDE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND INTELLEGENCE SHARING SUPPORT TO THE MULTISTATE PILOT PROJECT TO EXCHANGE TERRORISM AND OTHER INTELLIGENCE INFORMATION.”” IIR is the non-profit entity responsible for administering the MATRIX grant program.

[7] Georgia’s Homeland Security Bulletin No. 20-03, “”MATRIX . . . Multi-State Anti TeRrorism Information Exchange,”” August 1, 2003; e-mail to Matrix users listing data sources; Seisint document on Facts; MATRIX board meeting from 1/16/04

[8] MATRIX Slideshow. This document was obtained from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It is a presentation apparently given by the FDLE on the MATRIX program.

[9] Meeting Minutes, 11/5/2003.

[10] Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (MATRIX), Frequently Asked Questions. This document was obtained from the Connecticut State Police.

[11] Meeting Minutes, 4/22/2003.

[12] Meeting Minutes, 10/7/2002.

[13] Id.

[14] Texas Letter, 5/21/2003. In their letter withdrawing from MATRIX, the Texas Department of Law Enforcement estimated the eventual cost of the system at $140,000 per month.

[15] The service contract between FDLE and Seisint, obtained from the FDLE, entitled “”Contract between Seisint, Inc. and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement regarding a License to Access Seisint’s FACTS System and for Maintenance and Support of the License.”” It was signed on 10/27/2003.

[16] Memorandum of understanding between the Pennsylvania State Police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Similar information is also contained in “”Frequently Asked Questions“” obtained from the Connecticut State Police.

[17] FACTS Success Stories.

[18] Letter from the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety to the Office of the Governor of Georgia raising concerns about the state’s participation in MATRIX, 11/29/2003. This letter was obtained from the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety.

[19] Jim Krane, “States Join in Building Terror Database,” Associated Press, September 23, 2003.

[20] Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety letter, 11/29/2003.

[21] Krane, Associated Press; Meeting Minutes, 11/5/2003.

[22] Lucy Morgan, “Troubled Business May Lose Contract with State,” St. Petersburg Times, August 13, 2003. Asher was never charged with drug smuggling but became an informant for state and federal authorities.

[23] Id.

[24] Krane, Associated Press.

[25] Nancy Kranich, “”MATRIX and the New Surveillance States: The Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange”” Free Expression Policy Project, October 16, 2003.

[26] Meeting Minutes, 11/5/2003.

[27] Frequently Asked Questions, Connecticut State Police.

[28] Service contract between FDLE and Seisint.

[29] Don Campbell, “”High-tech microscopes expose Americans’ private lives”” USA Today, November 11, 2003.

[30] IIR Grant.

[31] Campbell, USA Today.

[32] MATRIX Slideshow, Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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