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schadeaux

Why we should fear the Matrix

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The 'Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange' program threatens privacy

By Anita Ramasastry

FindLaw Columnist

Special to CNN.com

Thursday, November 6, 2003

(FindLaw) -- On October 30, 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed simultaneous requests in Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania for information about those states' participation in the "Matrix" program. (The program's formal name is the "Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange.") In addition to those five states, four others -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Utah --are participating.

The ACLU's requests seek to find out what information sources the Matrix uses, who has access to the database and how it's being used. They were made pursuant to each states' Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In October, the ACLU had sought similar information under the federal version of FOIA and in Florida, where the program originated.

What is the Matrix, and why is the ACLU so concerned? Those are the two questions I will address in this column. I will also argue that readers should be concerned, too.

The Total Information Awareness program

Last September, Congress voted to close down the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program. As I discussed in an earlier column, TIA would have allowed the federal government to search and combine the vast amount of data that exists in government and commercial (for profit) databases to create individual profiles of each of us.

TIA was premised on a belief that compiling as much information as possible about as many people as possible in a large-scale database would help thwart terrorist activity. The idea -- called "data mining" -- was that government officials would search the database for information, or patterns of information, that might identify terrorists.

Congress should be applauded for shutting TIA down. First, Congress banned the use of TIA against American citizens, in light of privacy concerns, as well as concerns about the potential for erroneous identifications of innocent persons as terrorists. The program was then renamed Terrorist Information Awareness. Then, Congress shut down that program as well.

Unfortunately, however, the same data mining ideas that inspired TIA have appeared again-- this time, in the guise of the Matrix.

CNN

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