The ACLU of Ohio filed “Freedom of Information” requests regarding the state's participation in MATRIX with the Ohio Attorney General in October 2003 and February 2004. A response wasn’t received until March 2004, after the Columbus media shined a spotlight on the controversial data-mining project. The small amount of documents that the ACLU of Ohio received omitted the kinds of correspondence, legal and fiscal analysis that one would except regarding a project of this scope, according to ACLU of Ohio Staff Attorney Carrie Davis. The ACLU of Ohio expects to make additional information requests of the Attorney General and Governor to uncover this information.
MATRIX (Multistate Anti-TeRrorism Information eXchange) is the latest government program to place the innocent public under surveillance in an attempt to search out criminals. The vast MATRIX database is composed of personal records voluntarily supplied by each state government participant and combined with commercial consumer data. MATRIX then makes those dossiers available for search by law enforcement officials, who can comb through the billions of files in a search for “anomalies” that may be indicative of terrorist or other criminal activity. The data-sharing system is operated by a private Florida company, Seisint, with $12 billion in funding from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
"The documents that we have paint a frightening portrait of irresponsibility and lack of accuracy," Davis said. Background checks on the founder of Seisint reveal that he has a history of drug smuggling and other criminal allegations. Proponents of MATRIX argue in policy papers and news articles that the program gives law enforcement access to accurate, complete data to help officers respond quickly. Yet, the agreement Ohio signed to participate in MATRIX expressly disclaims accuracy. It says that by signing the agreement, the state acknowledges that law enforcement and commercial data sources in MATRIX may contain errors and should not be relied on. A citizen cannot check his or her data in MATRIX, and concerned citizens would have to approach the source of each piece of data to review it – which would mean contacting the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the Board of Elections of each county where you resided, or any other state government office that collects citizens’ data.
Two-thirds of the states that signed on to participate in the data-sharing project known as MATRIX have withdrawn. The original list of participating states made up approximately 50% of the total US population, adding to the appeal of linking their information, the New York State Police said in their March 10th withdrawal letter. Two-thirds of those states have withdrawn citing concerns of privacy, accuracy, legality, and cost. New York and Wisconsin were the latest to withdraw, in mid-March, following media attention about the controversial data mining program.
The State of Ohio is one of only five states to remain in the MATRIX state data surveillance program. Even more outrageous, and contrary to public statements that Ohio has not turned over any data to MATRIX, is the recent news that the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles instead sold Ohioan’s driving records to Seisint, the company operating MATRIX.
“The half-truths and inadequate response to our requests for public records from the Ohio Attorney General raises even more suspicions about the secretive nature of Ohio’s participation in MATRIX,” said ACLU of Ohio Staff Attorney Carrie Davis.
The ACLU of Ohio is taking Governor Taft and Attorney General Petro to task on this issue. “States are abandoning MATRIX like rats fleeing a sinking ship,” says Carrie Davis of the ACLU. “So why is Ohio still on board and supporting such risky data-mining efforts?”