ACLU Questions Michigan State Police's Authority to Participate in MATRIX Data Collection Without Oversight

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
May 20, 2004 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Michigan
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today asked the state police to issue a formal ruling explaining why they believe that their participation in the “Multi-State Anti-Terrorist Information Exchange” (MATRIX), a controversial database surveillance program, is not subject to a state law requiring legislative approval of such activities.

Michigan’s law – the Interstate Law Enforcement Intelligence Organizations Act (ILEIO) — requires that the state legislature approve the state’s participation in an interstate intelligence organization and that a citizen oversight body supervise such participation.

“We are asking the state police to explain why they believe that they do not have to comply with this law,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We know that the state has provided a number of databases to MATRIX, which is run by a private company, and yet 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.”

The ILEIO Act (MCLA § 752.01) 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. The “Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit” (LEIU), like MATRIX, had a legitimate law enforcement function. However, LEIU also engaged in political intelligence and collected information on non-criminal activity of U.S. citizens.

The ACLU of Michigan has now filed three Freedom of Information Act requests with both the state police and the Attorney General on this subject. The national ACLU office has also filed FOIA requests with the other states that are participating in MATRIX. Seisint Inc., a private, profit-making company in Florida that operates MATRIX, has refused to disclose details of the program, according to news reports.

According to information revealed in the answers to the FOIAs, Congressional testimony, and news reports, the MATRIX creates files on individuals, using government databases and private-sector information about individuals. Federal and state law enforcement officers can then access those dossiers, at a cost. In addition, the MATRIX program combs through millions of files in a search for “anomalies” on people who have never committed a crime.

At this point, Michigan has provided information to MATRIX, including credit histories, drivers’ license photographs, marriage and divorce records, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and the names and addresses of family members, neighbors and business associates, the ACLU has learned.

The ACLU is concerned that individuals are vulnerable to inaccurate data collection under MATRIX, much like they were under LEIU, and that the risks are even greater as a result of 21st century technology. MATRIX 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 ACLU of Michigan, in coordination with the national ACLU, believes it has uncovered sufficient documentation from several states that either currently participate or previously participated in MATRIX to warrant a request for a formal analysis under the ILEIO Act as it relates to MATRIX. Under Michigan law, an agency is required to make the initial interpretation as to whether a specific law applies to that agency.

“This request is not an accusation of any wrong-doing,” Moss added. “However, the MSP needs to be sure that it is in compliance with the law before they risk the privacy of Michigan residents.”

For more information on MATRIX, including a new ACLU briefing paper that reveals disturbing information about the Department of Homeland Security’s involvement in the program, go to

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release