ACLU of Michigan and Former Governor Charge State Police with Violating Data Collection Law Through Controversial MATRIX Database Program

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
August 3, 2004 12:00 am

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DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today announced the filing of a lawsuit on behalf of its members and three individuals, including former Michigan Governor William Milliken and a Catholic nun, asking the court to stop the state police from participating in MATRIX, the Multi-State Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange surveillance program, until they are willing to comply with state law.

According to the lawsuit, police involvement in MATRIX violates Michigan’s Interstate Law Enforcement Intelligence Organizations Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Milliken in 1980 to prevent unsupervised and uncontrolled access to information about individuals.

“I signed this act into law in order to protect the privacy of individual citizens and, at the same time, provide law enforcement agencies with the tools they need,” said Governor Milliken. “Nearly 25 years later, the technology has changed, but the privacy rights of Michigan citizens remain the same.”

Since 2003 the Michigan State Police has provided not only criminal record data, but also driver’s licenses, motor vehicle registration records, credit histories and marriage and divorce records to MATRIX. The program ties together government and commercial databases for the purpose of conducting detailed searches on particular individuals, and to search for patterns in the data. According to the ACLU, MATRIX contains a vast array of non-criminal information on Michigan residents, including information that is speculative, inaccurate and possibly constitutionally protected.

Records that have been or will be shared by the Michigan State Police with MATRIX include Gov. Milliken’s driver’s license and motor vehicle registration as well as the arrest records of Sister Elizabeth LaForest, a peace activist and co-plaintiff in the case who has been arrested and convicted of trespassing for participating in non-violent anti-war protests.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit after sending a letter to the Michigan State Police in May 2004 questioning its authority to participate in an interstate intelligence organization without the approval of either the state legislature or a citizen oversight body as required by law. The state police denied that they were required to ensure that safeguards were in place before sharing the information.

“What’s particularly troubling about MATRIX is that vast amounts of information are being compiled about law-abiding citizens,” said ACLU of Michigan attorney Noel Saleh. “With a few strokes of the keyboard, anyone who drives or owns a car who has never done anything wrong or anyone who’s been arrested for a minor offense may find themselves in the middle of a government investigation.”

Seisint Inc., a private, profit-making company in Florida that operates MATRIX, has refused to disclose details of the program, according to news reports. It remains unclear what data will be compiled, who else may have access to it, or what standards would trigger the creation of a dossier on an individual.

While the Michigan State Police defend their participation in the MATRIX program, saying that the data shared is of a “public” nature, the ACLU argues that when this data is combined with billions of other private records obtained by Seisint, the company can use the MATRIX software to instantaneously create dossiers on law-abiding citizens.

The Interstate Law Enforcement Intelligence Organizations Act was enacted in 1980 after it was learned that the Michigan police had compiled “Red Squad files” on thousands of Michigan residents. The law was meant to prevent unsupervised and uncontrolled access to information about individuals. At the time, Michigan law enforcement agencies were participating in an intelligence network similar to MATRIX for the purpose of fighting organized crime. However, they were also using the information to spy on individuals engaged in constitutionally protected political advocacy.

The ACLU is concerned that Michigan residents are vulnerable to inaccurate data collection under MATRIX, much like they were during the days of the “Red Squad files,” and that the risks are even greater as a result of 21st century technology.

Additional concerns about MATRIX include the facts that it has no citizen oversight board; it maintains records which are not relevant to a criminal investigation or within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity; it may contain information describing how an individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment; it has no procedures for reviewing files for accuracy or legality; and there is no stated policy for assuring the purging of outdated information.

The lawsuit was filed in Wayne County Circuit Court. The legal complaint is online

For more information about MATRIX, go to

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