ACLU of Pennsylvania Calls On General Assembly To Bring Matrix Under Control

March 29, 2004 12:00 am

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Statement of Larry Frankel, Legislative Director
ACLU of Pennsylvania


PHILADELPHIA — In light of the recent decisions by New York and Wisconsin officials to terminate their participation in the controversial Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, more commonly known as MATRIX, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania today calls on the General Assembly to bring Pennsylvania’s participation in MATRIX under legislative control.

Over the last few months, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah have also dropped out of, or suspended their participation in, MATRIX. Pennsylvania’s leaders should seriously consider doing so as well.

MATRIX is a federally funded program that pulls together public and commercial databases. Billions of records on millions of Americans are being stored and controlled by a private company, Seisint, Inc.

Using MATRIX, governmental agents can instantaneously access information on firearms and hunting licenses, motor vehicle and driver record information, criminal history records, bankruptcy filings, professional licenses and voter registration information.

The Pennsylvania State Police, without legislative approval or oversight, has apparently entered into an agreement to participate in MATRIX. The ACLU strongly believes that Pennsylvania’s participation in MATRIX should immediately cease because the Pennsylvania State Police lack the legal authority to join MATRIX. This would be in the best interest of all those Pennsylvanians who are concerned about maintaining strict confidentiality of much of this information, particularly data regarding driver’s licenses and firearm ownership.

We think that the General Assembly should take the lead in assuring the privacy of Pennsylvania’s citizens. There should be legislative hearings looking into the circumstances under which Pennsylvania began to participate in MATRIX. Questions should be asked concerning the funding of MATRIX, what data is being compiled and distributed through MATRIX, who has access to it and what steps are being taken to guarantee that this information will never be used for data mining or creating profiles of Pennsylvanians.

In response to the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Public Record requests, the State Police divulged only limited background information on the program and denied our request for additional relevant information.

We do not stand alone in calling for states to bring MATRIX under control. Recently Steve Lillienthal, Policy Analyst at the Free Congress Foundation, called for states to enact laws to protect Americans from law enforcement databases. Lillienthal characterized MATRIX as a system that creates “more opportunities for misuse of your data, whether it is your credit history, driver’s license information or photographs, Social Security number, business records, and whatever else they have on file.”

The ACLU believes it is in the best interest of all Pennsylvanians for our legislators to impose real controls over the State Police’s participation in MATRIX. The decision to use such a system is just too important to make without involving the General Assembly and the public. We should follow the lead of our sister states who have stepped up to provide real protection for their citizens’ privacy. If Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin can get out of the MATRIX, why shouldn’t Pennsylvania think about ending this dangerous relationship?

For more information about MATRIX, please go to

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