ACLU Testifies on Newly Uncovered MATRIX Program Documents

February 10, 2004 12:00 am

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Outlines “Myths and Realities” About State-Run Data Surveillance Program


NEW YORK — Newly obtained documents concerning the MATRIX data surveillance program make it clear that, contrary to the claims of boosters, this state-run program represents part of a radical new trend toward mass-surveillance of the American people, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

In testimony at a hearing for state legislators in Connecticut, the ACLU described “myths and realities” about MATRIX based on documents obtained under state open-records laws.

“The documents we have received draw a very disturbing portrait of a data- mining operation that is fully capable of rooting through billions of records about the private lives of Americans — and may be doing so already,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program, who is testifying today.

The ACLU said it had filed more than 20 “Freedom of Information” requests at state and federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, Secret Service, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Justice, as well as California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah. The documents revealed numerous “realities” that counter government myths about the program, including:

  • The MATRIX is not about fighting terrorism, but about supercharging routine law enforcement
  • The MATRIX does utilize data-mining, contrary to the claims of program boosters
  • The MATRIX does far more than speed up routine law enforcement
  • The federal government is heavily involved in MATRIX
  • The accuracy and security of the personal information contained in MATRIX is questionable.

Still, said Steinhardt, much remains unknown about this secretive program. “Many agencies have resisted revealing documents about MATRIX and we know of specific documents that have not been provided in response to our requests. Questions that remain unanswered include what type of commercial data the system contains, how it is being used to monitor Americans, and how much it will cost.”

The ACLU pointed out that of some 16 states originally interested in the program, only six remain in the program, and several of those are wavering. “The American people are rejecting this program just as they rejected the Pentagon’s ‘Total Information Awareness’ spying program before it,” Steinhardt added.

“The ACLU applauds efforts by law enforcement to cooperate in using legitimate information about terrorism or crime,” he said. “But turning every American into a suspect and putting detailed dossiers on their lives at the authorities’ fingertips is not how we do things in this country.”

The ACLU’s “Myths and Realities” — with links to key documents obtained from the government — is online at /node/22415

An ACLU web feature on the Matrix program including the above documents is online at /matrix

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