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Multistate Anti-terrorism Information Exchange System

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Overview Edit

The Multistate Anti-terrorism Information Exchange System (MATRIX) was a data mining system that provides the capability to store, analyze, and exchange sensitive terrorism-related and other criminal intelligence data among agencies within a state, among states, and between state and federal agencies.

MATRIX was initially developed by Seisint, a Florida-based information products company, in an effort to facilitate collaborative information sharing and factual data analysis. At the outset of the project, MATRIX included a component Seisint called the High Terrorist Factor (HTF). Within days of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, based on an analysis of information that included “age and gender, what they did with their drivers license, either pilots or associations to pilots, proximity to ‘dirty’ addresses/phone numbers, investigational data, how they shipped; how they received, social security number anomalies, credit history, and ethnicity,” Seisint generated a list of 120,000 names with high HTF scores, or so-called terrorism quotients. Seisint provided this list to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the United States Secret Service (USSS), and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which, according to a January 2003 presentation, made by the company, led to "several arrests within one week” and “scores of other arrests."[1]

Although the HTF scoring system appeared to attract the interest of officials, this feature was reportedly dropped from MATRIX because it relied on intelligence data not normally available to the law enforcement community and concerns about privacy abuses. However, some critics of MATRIX continued to raise questions about HTF, citing the lack of any publicly available official documentation verifying such a decision.[2]

As a pilot project, MATRIX was administered through a collaborative effort between Seisint, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE),[3] and the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR), a “Florida-based nonprofit research and training organization, [that] specializes in law enforcement, juvenile justice, and criminal justice issues.”[4] FDLE served as the “Security Agent” for MATRIX, administering control over which agencies and individuals had access to the system. FDLE was also a participant state in MATRIX. IIR was responsible for administrative support, and was the grantee for federal funds received for MATRIX.

The analytical core of the MATRIX pilot project was an application called the Factual Analysis Criminal Threat Solution (FACTS).

Participating law enforcement agencies utilized this information sharing and data mining resource over the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) secure intranet (RISSNET).

Some critics of MATRIX suggested that the original intentions and design of the pilot project echoed those of DARPA’s highly criticized TIA program.[5] However, while it is difficult to ascribe intention, an ongoing series of problems did appear to have affected the trajectory of the project. In August 2003, Hank Asher, the founder of Seisint, resigned from the company’s board of directors after questions about his criminal history were raised during contract negotiations between Seisint and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In the 1980s, Asher was allegedly a pilot in several drug smuggling cases. However, he was reportedly never charged in the cases in exchange for his testimony at state and federal trials. Similar concerns had surfaced in 1999 when the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reportedly cancelled contracts with an earlier company Asher founded, DBT Online, Inc.[6]

Some civil liberties organizations also raised concerns about law enforcement actions being taken based on algorithms and analytical criteria developed by a private corporation, in this case Seisint, without any public or legislative input.[7] Questions also were raised about the level of involvement of the federal government, particularly the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, in a project that is ostensibly focused on supporting state-based information sharing.[8] It has been reported that the MATRIX pilot project has received a total of $12 million in federal funding — $8 million from the Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and $4 million from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) at the Department of Justice (DOJ).[9]

The MATRIX pilot project also suffered some setbacks in recruiting states to participate. The lack of participation can be especially troubling for a networked information sharing project such as MATRIX because, as Metcalfe’s Law suggests, “the power of the network increases exponentially by the number of computers connected to it.”[10] While as many as 16 states were reported to have either participated or seriously considered participating in MATRIX, several chose to withdraw, leaving a total of four states (Connecticut, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) at the conclusion of the pilot on April 15, 2005. State officials cited a variety of reasons for not participating in MATRIX, including costs, concerns about violating state privacy laws, and duplication of existing resources.[11]

It was announced that while the pilot study would not be continued, due to a lack of additional federal funding, that Florida and other participating states were “independently negotiating the continued use of the FACTS application for use within their individual state[s].”[12]

MATRIX has now been shut down.

References Edit

  1. Facts on the MATRIX program are available here.
  2. Brian Bergstein, “Database Firm Tagged 120,000 Terrorism ‘Suspects’ for Feds,” SunHerald, May 20, 2004.[1]
  3. The FDLE website is available here.
  4. The IIR website is available here.
  5. John Schwartz, “Privacy Fears Erode Support for a Network to Fight Crime,” N.Y. Times, March 15, 2004.[2]
  6. Cynthia L. Webb, “Total Information Dilemma,” Wash. Post, May 27, 2004[3]; Lucy Morgan, “Ex-drug Runner Steps Aside,” St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 30, 2003[4]; Bill Cotterell, & Nancy Cook Lauer, “Bush Defends Pick of Computer Firm, Former Leader’s Background Raises Questions,” Tallahassee Democrat, May 22, 2004.[5]
  7. William Welsh, “Feds Offer to Mend Matrix,” Wash. Technology, May 24, 2004.[6]
  8. Robert O’Harrow, Jr., “Anti-Terror Database Got Show at White House,” Wash. Post, May 21, 2004, at A12.
  9. John Schwartz, “Privacy Fears Erode Support for a Network to Fight Crime,” N.Y. Times, March 15, 2004[7].
  10. A more detailed discussion of Metcalfe’s Law here.
  11. The states that have reportedly decided to withdraw from the pilot project include Alabama, California, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. Larry Greenemeier, “Two More States Withdraw from Database,” InformationWeek, March 12, 2004[8]; Diane Frank, “Utah No Longer Part of MATRIX,” Federal Computer Week, Apr. 5, 2004, at 14; Associated Press, “Two More States Withdraw From Controversial Database Program,” Star-Telegram, March 12, 2004[9]; Associated Press, “Matrix Plan Fuels Privacy Fears,” Wired News, Feb. 2, 2004.[10]
  12. Florida Dep. of Law Enforcement, “News Release: MATRIX Pilot Project Concludes,” Apr. 15, 2005.[11]

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