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NYCLU and State Senator Krueger Applaud NY Police Withdrawal from ‘Matrix’

State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and the NYCLU praised the decision of the New York State Police to pull out of the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (MATRIX) pilot project today. “New York has acted responsibly by withdrawing from the invasive and costly MATRIX program,” said Senator Krueger.

The NYCLU’s Executive Director, Donna Lieberman, hailed New York’s withdrawal from MATRIX. “This program is what is meant by the term ‘Orwellian’: big government creating dossiers on every individual with all manner of personal information – from household members to public utility accounts. It was terribly unwise for New York to enter this program; that New York will not be hooked into MATRIX is good news for those who believe that there are constraints upon the government’s authority to spy on individuals without cause.”

In June 2002, 15 states expressed interest in participating in a pilot project of the MATRIX. The program is designed to merge personal data, such as Social Security numbers, arrest records and marriage records with information from commercial databases, such as credit reports, employment history and business transaction history. Funding was provided by the Justice Department ($4 million) and the Department of Homeland Security ($8 million). Presently, only 5 states continue to participate in the database. Furthermore, advocacy groups and think tanks from all over the political spectrum oppose the MATRIX, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Conservative Union and the Cato Institute.

“The MATRIX is remarkably similar in intent to the Pentagon’s botched Total Information Awareness project,” stated Senator Krueger. “Both projects are misguided attempts to protect citizens from terrorism and criminal activity. The reality is that neither program will solve these problems and that they would waste massive amounts of money in the final analysis. It is clear that the MATRIX is merely an attempt to shift the goals of the flawed Total Information Awareness project to the states.”

Robert Perry, the NYCLU’s Legislative Director commented that “MATRIX has little or nothing to do with tracking terrorism; it is rather a massive and misguided citizen profiling scheme, one that would make suspects out of innocent people.”

In a letter dated March 9, 2004, to the Chairman of the MATRIX at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, NY State Police Assistant Deputy Superintendent Steven Cumoletti wrote, “Unfortunately, instead of increasing the number of participating states over time to improve the potential benefits of the pilot, to date nearly two-thirds of the initial states have opted out of the project. The uncertainty of continued funding and the valid concerns about the feasibility of expanding the project in its current physical data warehouse design have been the most crucial reasons provided for withdrawing.”

The MATRIX is administered by a Florida-based company called Seisint. The MATRIX is a database that was initially created in tandem with Florida law enforcement officials with the purpose of generating dossiers based on a wide array of personal information to hunt for patterns indicative of terrorist or criminal activity. This process is known as “data-mining” and was fashioned after the TIA project that Congress shut down in 2003. “Data-mining is a powerful tool that has the potential to be harnessed in inappropriate ways,” stated Senator Krueger. “It is inevitable that countless innocent people will be targeted incorrectly, which is not only an invasion of privacy, but a waste of police enforcement resources.”

The founder of the MATRIX, Hank Asher has a questionable past. According to Floriday police, in the 1980’s Asher was a major drug smuggler. In 1987, Asher became a State and Federal informant and was therefore not indicted for his participation in a drug smuggling ring that brought over $150 million worth of cocaine to the United States in a single year. In the 1990’s, Asher was instrumental in developing the infamous software that was eventually used by the Florida Department of Elections to wrongly purge the voter roles, disenfranchising tens of thousand of voters.

“I have been investigating the MATRIX program for months and the more I learned the more disturbed I became,” remarked Senator Krueger. “I have received hundreds of letters from constituents who vehemently oppose the MATRIX. They have called for New York State to withdraw and have described the project as ‘dangerous and invasive’. I am thrilled to report that New York has terminated its participation.”

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