Privacy Fears Erode Support For A Network To Fight Crime
The Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (Matrix), envisioned as a law enforcement tool for tracking down terrorists and other criminals by integrating and mining information from public and private databases–vehicle registrations, driver’s license data, real estate records, etc.–has been struck a heavy blow by the withdrawal of 11 out of its original 16 member states.
Advocates claim Matrix simply allows authorities to access data that they are legally permitted to view, while critics warn that the system could infringe on civil liberties and raise the risk of innocent civilians becoming embroiled in police investigations.
According to a recent ACLU report, Matrix is “a body blow to the core American principle that the government will leave people alone unless it has good reason to suspect them of wrongdoing.
” Most of the states that opted out of the program cited money issues, but New York, which announced its withdrawal several weeks ago, declared that eroding support for the network heavily influenced its decision. However, New York Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) says privacy concerns were at the root of the states’ hesitancy.
Opponents of Matrix call the network little more than a state-level version of Total Information Awareness (TIA), a federal data-mining surveillance initiative that was halted by Congress because of the public outcry it engendered.
Despite New York’s decision not to participate in Matrix, New York State Office of Public Security director James W. McMahon acknowledges that the network could be an effective tool for recovering kidnap victims. Though Barry Steinhardt of the ACLU appreciates the termination of TIA and the erosion of Matrix, he is concerned that even more insidious surveillance programs are operating under the radar.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from the New York Times (03/15/04) P. C1; Schwartz, John .