Documents Acquired By ACLU Prove That MATRIX is a Data Mining Program

January 21, 2004 12:00 am

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Still No Answer On What Private Data Sources Are Used


NEW YORK–New documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union prove that data mining is at the heart of the controversial MATRIX police database system and reveal that the federal authorities have been deeply involved in developing the state-run effort to spy on citizens.

“Supporters of this system have claimed that it does nothing more than make existing everyday police activities more efficient. We now know that is not the case,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program. “This is data mining pure and simple: the authorities compile information from numerous public and private sources and let a computer decide if you’re a threat. That capability is completely unprecedented in our history, and remains unrestrained by our legal system.”

Pennsylvania State Police documents obtained by the ACLU as part of a series of state Freedom of Information Act requests repeatedly discuss a “data mining application, called FCIC Plus,” which is described as containing a “terrorism factor information query capability.” A slide show obtained from the Michigan Department of State Police contains charts graphically describing how police information from multiple states will be combined with commercial databases containing “20+ Billion Records From 100’s of sources.”

“These documents also raise the question of whether the MATRIX is at least in part an attempt by federal authorities to cultivate a data mining system that will not attract the attention or oversight of a program like Total Information Awareness,” said Steinhardt, referring to the Pentagon data mining program shut down by Congress.

The documents reveal that not only were federal officials present at inaugural organizational meetings, but that the data mining application “FCIC Plus” was developed “with the help of the FBI, INS, DEA, and the U.S. Secret Service.” It has already been reported that MATRIX has received a $4 million grant from the Justice Department, and has been promised a further $8 million from the Department of Homeland Security.

The documents the ACLU obtained did not, however, answer a key question about the system: what kinds of private-sector information sources it relies upon in its attempt to detect terrorists.

“This kind of data mining has the potential to change forever the relationship between private individuals and their government in the United States of America; it is not something that should be taking place in the shadows,” Steinhardt said. “Why won’t the operators of MATRIX they tell us what private-sector sources of information they are using?”

Steinhardt said the ACLU has filed a follow-up FOIA in Pennsylvania asking for further information that the ACLU believes was unjustifiably withheld. The group is continuing to press for information about the MATRIX from the federal government and from other states that have participated in the program: Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, New York, Ohio, and Utah.

Steinhardt noted that the ACLU has had trouble getting cooperation in other states with its lawful requests for information; as an example he cited Utah, which is statutorily required to respond to a state FOIA request within 10 days. “It’s been nine weeks, and we still haven’t heard from them,” Steinhardt said. “This shouldn’t be like pulling teeth.”

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