\"MATRIX\" to provide TIA-like capabilities to states

Because no bad idea (or bad name) remains unused for long, the state of Florida has been working to create an information network that gathers information about its residents to aid in "anti-terrorism" and law enforcement. According to this article in the Washington Post, Florida is now working to go multi-state, with the help of the federal government, in a project it calls Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (M.A.T.R.I.X.).

Now, I'm not going to say that the people who come up with these names are idiots, because frankly, I appreciate the fact that they create names that are so well designed to create fear and derision. However, if I ever create a big brother system, you can bet your bottom dollar it's going to have a good old- fashioned Japanese name, like "Puppy." If you aren't familiar with Sony's Puppy product, it is a fingerprint identification unit that is used to secure your Mac (or PC, if you have such a thing) with a fingerprint. By all accounts, it is a nice design, storing the fingerprint data inside of the reader, so that you can't grab the data from your machine.

But, I digress, let's get back to the system that Florida is creating. MATRIX (homed here at the Institute for Intergovernmental Research, "a Florida-based nonprofit research and training organization, specializes in law enforcement, juvenile justice, and criminal justice issues"), is "a pilot effort to increase and enhance the exchange of sensitive terrorism and other criminal activity information between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies."

Note how deftly the work de-funded by the congress has popped up with a $4M grant from the "Department of Justice" (which shall remain in quotes until Ashcroft is gone) so that thirteen states (Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Ohio, and Utah) can persue the original aims of the US Department of Defense's TIA program (albeit without the hard concentration on terrorism).

So, what are they looking at?

According to their web page, they're starting with public information, including:

  • criminal history
  • driver license data
  • vehicle registration records
  • incarceration/corrections records including digitized photographs
  • with significant amounts of public data record entries I'm stuck with a couple of questions right away:

  • Where did they mean to put the comma before the "including digitized photographs"? I have put it above with the incarceration records, but since their original list was just strung together with commas, it could indicate that the photos were coming from all sources, not just the prison data.

  • What are "significant amounts of public data record entries" and where do they come from? I'm going to assume that we're talking data from government sources, so we're likely to be seeing certain tax info (like property ownership stuff), but it is unclear from the system whether governmental data such as the voting rolls will be included.

Then we have the catch-all, "Provision has been made for the inclusion of data sources from additional states, should expansion be authorized." This is the clause that concerns people. Right now, it appears that there is no authorization to provide this data, but it may be forthcoming.

Who made the system?

This is an interesting case. According to the article in the 'Post, the creator (Hank Asher, founder of Seisint) volunteered to write the system for free. Also interesting is that he has a bit of a sketchy past, with questions about drug smuggling and acting as an informant to police about such acts.

Matrix project leads point out that Mr. Asher has never been arrested or charged, much less convicted, and therefore state that he isn't a legal risk. However, it makes you wonder what kind of back doors might exist in a system whose sponsors say will have strict control over who can access what and which will be available through "secure" web sites. I hope they're not running Windows.