ACLU Unveils Disturbing New Revelations About MATRIX Surveillance Program

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

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Investigation Sought into DHS Role as Funder, Manager of “State Run” Program


MIAMI–The American Civil Liberties Union today released documents containing disturbing new revelations about the MATRIX database surveillance program, including the fact that it was under the direct managerial control of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and that Florida Governor Jeb Bush gave a personal briefing on the program to Vice President Dick Cheney.

The group also announced that it has written to Nuala O’Connor Kelly, Chief Privacy Officer of DHS, asking her to investigate DHS’s role in the Matrix program.

“We were surprised to learn that DHS is playing a central role not only in funding this program, but also in managing it,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program. “The federal government’s involvement is eerily reminiscent of the Pentagon’s ‘Total Information Awareness’ data-mining program, which was based on the same concept of sorting through everyone’s data in an attempt to identify terrorists. Congress shut down TIA, and it should shut down the Matrix as well.”

At a news conference today in Miami, the ACLU issued a briefing paper describing the new revelations and their significance, based on documents obtained from public records requests filed in Florida, Georgia, New York, Utah, and with the Justice Department.

“We have long been appalled at Florida’s seemingly central role in developing and pushing this intrusive system in which a government file is created on everyone, whether they are a terrorist suspect or completely innocent of any suspicion,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “But perhaps even more disturbing, this revelation suggests that Florida has been no more than a tool of the federal authorities.”

MATRIX (the Multistate Anti-TeRrorism Information eXchange) is the latest data-mining program to emerge from the government. This surveillance system combines information about individuals from government databases and private-sector data companies, and makes that data available for search by government officials to comb through the millions of files in a search for “anomalies” that may be indicative of terrorist or other criminal activity.

According to a document obtained through an ACLU open-records request to the state of New York, DHS in July 2003 approved a request for $8 million for the operation and expansion of the Matrix. However, DHS informed Matrix officials that in exchange for the $8 million, the agency would enter into a “Cooperative Agreement” rather than a grant, under which DHS would “maintain managerial oversight and control” of the Matrix.

In its letter to Kelly, the ACLU asked her to conduct an investigation of how the Matrix operates, what the role of DHS has been, and how it has been utilized by the department.

Another document obtained by the ACLU indicated that Matrix operators sent to federal law enforcement authorities a list of 120,000 names of individuals who had been scored with a high “terrorism quotient.” Seisint, the company that operates Matrix, claimed that scores of arrests resulted from the list.

“If this is how our officials are operating in the war against terrorism, it not only raises the chilling prospect that any innocent American could become vulnerable to having their name spit out by some unreliable computer as a suspect, but it fails to inspire confidence in how our nation is being protected against attack,” Steinhardt said.

Other documents included Governor Bush’s “briefing points” for a meeting on Matrix with Vice President Cheney, at which he sought the Vice President’s support for additional federal funds for the program. Other documents show that Governor Bush has personally taken a lead role in selling the program to other states.

The ACLU’s White Paper is available online at /node/22015

The letter to Nuala O’Connor Kelly, DHS Chief Privacy Officer, is online at /node/22478

A web feature on the Matrix, including the new documents obtained by the ACLU, is online at /matrix

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