What Is The Matrix? ACLU Seeks Answers on New State-Run Surveillance Program
Defunct Big Brother Spying Program Resurfaces as “”Little Brother”” in Seven States
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK-The American Civil Liberties Union today filed simultaneous state “”Freedom of Information Act”” requests in Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania about those states’ participation in the new “”MATRIX”” database surveillance system. It also released an Issue Brief explaining the problems with the program, which also operates in Florida and Utah.
“”Congress killed the Pentagon’s ‘Total Information Awareness’ data mining program, but now the federal government is trying to build up a state-run equivalent,”” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program.
“”In essence, the government is replacing an unpopular Big Brother initiative with a lot of Little Brothers,”” he added, noting that the program is receiving $12 million from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. “”What does it take for the message to get through that government spying on the activities of innocent Americans will not be tolerated?””
The ACLU’s requests, which were filed under individual states’ open-records laws, come on the heels of a federal Freedom of Information Act request it filed October 17. A similar request was also filed in Florida, where the program originated. The goal of the requests is to find out what information sources the system is drawing on – information program officials have refused to disclose – as well as who has access to the database and how it is being used.
According to Congressional testimony and news reports, The Matrix (which stands for “”Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange””) creates dossiers about individuals from government databases and private-sector information companies that compile files on Americans’ activities for profit. It then makes those dossiers available for search by federal and state law enforcement officers. In addition, Matrix workers comb through the millions of files in a search for “”anomalies”” that may be indicative of terrorist or other criminal activity.
While company officials have refused to disclose details of the program, according to news reports the kind of information to be searched includes credit histories, driver’s license photographs, marriage and divorce records, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and the names and addresses of family members, neighbors and business associates.
Raising even more issues, the Matrix is operated by a private company, Seisint Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida. Ironically, the company’s founder was forced to resign after information about his own past came to light: according to Florida police, he was formerly a drug smuggler who had piloted multiple planeloads of cocaine from Colombia to the U.S.
“”Members of Congress who voted to close down TIA in the belief that they were ending this kind of data mining surveillance must demand more information about The Matrix,”” said Steinhardt. “”And then they should shut it down too.””
Copies of the ACLU’s state and federal FOIA requests as well as the Issue Brief about The Matrix are online at /node/22551, and can also be accessed at www.aclu.org/privacy.
A special Web feature about the defunct TIA program is online at /Privacy/Privacylist.cfm?c=130.
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The Latest in National Security
ACLU Acknowledges Improvements to DOJ Racial Profiling Policy, But Says Far More is Needed
ACLU Applauds Court For Allowing Case Challenging FBI’s Wrongful Prosecution of Chinese American Physics Professor To Move Forward
Shen v. Simpson
Chinese Immigrants Sue Florida Over Unconstitutional and Discriminatory Law Banning Them From Buying Land
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About National Security
The ACLU’s National Security Project is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.