The Matrix (Interstate Snoop, Not the Movie)


Remember Admiral John Poindexter’s proposed Total Information Awareness (TIA) Program, the one which was going to mine all available electronic data on you and me, make it into a nifty profile, and put it out there for the government to use to track “terrorists”? I thought of it as a government “in search of” ad: “In search of petite red-head who has a sharp tongue and writes about John Ashcroft; likes dogs and gardening; listens to everything from Brahms to Blues; may not be armed, but should be considered dangerous.” Search the data base for all redheads with one or two of the “points” on the profile, then sweep in. Detain for questioning. Find something they did wrong in their pasts, charge them to the max, threaten with enemy combatant status if they don’t plead, sentence redheads to 10 years in prison.

Even our pitiful excuse of a Congress did not like TIA. (Speaking of pitiful, did you read how they all slobbered over Arnold Schwarzenegger this week? Even Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said “all is forgiven” as she stood in line for his autograph when he visited the Hill.) So they cut it from the Homeland Security Department Budget, kicked Poindexter out of his cushy Pentagon office, and sent him out to private industry to do his mischief there.

Well, TIA is not gone. It has morphed into MATRIX, an interstate electronic data base started by the State of Florida (of course, money to baby brother Jeb), with FEDERAL FUNDS, that involves states’ pooling first their criminal database. Then, who knows what else will go into the mix.

The ACLU is hot on the trail of MATRIX. On October 30 it filed simultaneous state “Freedom of Information Act” requests in Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania about those states’ participation in the new “MATRIX” database surveillance system. It also released an Issue Brief explaining the problems with the program, which also operates in Florida and Utah.

“Congress killed the Pentagon’s ‘Total Information Awareness’ data mining program, but now the federal government is trying to build up a state-run equivalent,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program.

“In essence, the government is replacing an unpopular Big Brother initiative with a lot of Little Brothers,” he added, noting that the program is receiving $12 million from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. “What does it take for the message to get through that government spying on the activities of innocent Americans will not be tolerated?”

The ACLU’s requests, which were filed under individual states’ open-records laws, come on the heels of a federal Freedom of Information Act request it filed October 17. A similar request was also filed in Florida, where the program originated. The goal of the requests is to find out what information sources the system is drawing on – information program officials have refused to disclose – as well as who has access to the database and how it is being used.

According to Congressional testimony and news reports, The Matrix (which stands for “Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange”) creates dossiers about individuals from government databases and private-sector information companies that compile files on Americans’ activities for profit. It then makes those dossiers available for search by federal and state law enforcement officers. In addition, Matrix workers comb through the millions of files in a search for “anomalies” that may be indicative of terrorist or other criminal activity.

While company officials have refused to disclose details of the program, according to news reports the kind of information to be searched includes credit histories, driver’s license photographs, marriage and divorce records, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and the names and addresses of family members, neighbors and business associates.

Raising even more issues, the Matrix is operated by a private company, Seisint Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida. Ironically, the company’s founder was forced to resign after information about his own past came to light: according to Florida police, he was formerly a drug smuggler who had piloted multiple planeloads of cocaine from Colombia to the U.S.

“Members of Congress who voted to close down TIA in the belief that they were ending this kind of data mining surveillance must demand more information about The Matrix,” said Steinhardt. “And then they should shut it down too.”

Copies of the ACLU’s state and federal FOIA requests as well as the Issue Brief about The Matrix are online.

View a special Web feature about the defunct TIA program at this ACLU site.

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teachers law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. She can be reached at: ecassel1@cox.net


November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”