On Thursday, March 18, the House Joint Appropriations Committee will discuss the MATRIX (Multi State Anti Terrorism Information Exchange) system, a program that ties together government and commercial databases in order to allow state and local police to conduct detailed searches on particular individuals.   Expected to provide information is John Ort, Director of the Emergency Management Division of the Department of State Police.

The program’s creators have refused to describe the contents of their database, except to concede that it includes both government and commercial data.  For more information about MATRIX, see www.aclu.org.  The MATRIX program developed after Congress, last September, voted to close down the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program. TIA would have allowed the federal government to search and combine the vast amount of data that currently exists in government with commercial databases to create individual profiles of each of us. The program was then renamed Terrorist Information Awareness. Congress shut down that program as well. 

“Unfortunately, the same data mining ideas that inspired TIA have appeared again in the guise of the MATRIX, “ said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan.  “We have real civil liberties concerns; it is unclear what data will be compiled, who else may have access to it, or what standards would trigger the creation of a dossier on an individual.  Moreover, the public has no idea of what costs might be involved, an issue of special importance when every state and local governmental body is having their budgets slashed.” In an effort to understand the breadth of Michigan’s participation in MATRIX the ACLU has sent multiple FOIA requests to the Michigan State Police.  In response to these requests, the State Police have denied any knowledge of the costs associated with the program.

Several states around the country have withdrawn from the MATRIX program, citing the high cost of annual fees for participation. Texas, for example, withdrew citing, among other things, the anticipated recurring $140,000 per month usage charge.  It has been reported that the cost to participating states would be $1.7 million annually. In addition, participating states would incur costs to code and transmit data. In Georgia those costs were estimated as being in excess of $300,000. See the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “2 More States Back off Matrix”, October 17, 2003. Georgia has recently withdrawn citing both privacy and financial concerns. See, Atlanta Journal Constitution, article dated 1/31/04.