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Anti-crime database losing support.

Several states have pulled out of the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (Matrix), the anti-crime computer database that some say threatens citizens' privacy rights. Just five of the 16 states that had originally signed up to participate remain involved in Matrix.

Started in 2002 in Florida with $12 million in initial federal funding, Matrix links government records with up to 20 billion records in databases held by Seisint Inc. The Seisint records include details on property and Internet domain names that individuals own, along with their address history, utility connections, bankruptcies, liens, and business filings, according to a report by the Georgia State Office of Homeland Security. The system allows states to share criminal, prison, and vehicle information with each other and cross-reference it with Seisint's database records.

The American Civil Liberties Union has complained that Matrix could be used by state and federal investigators to compile dossiers on people who have never been suspected of a crime. The same critics have called Matrix a state-run version of Total Information Awareness, a program that was being developed in the Pentagon to search an even broader array of databases for patterns of terrorist activity. Congress froze financing for that program last year in response to a public outcry over the system's privacy implications.

Seisint officials said safeguards were built into Matrix to prevent such abuses. Matrix advocates consider it a powerful investigation tool that uses information already available through public records to enable intelligent, quick, and efficient searches. They say the program was intended for fighting crime, not surveillance.

Of the original 16 states involved, Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia have either left or declined to join after actively considering participation. Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are currently using the program.

Most states have cited tight budgets as the reason for their withdrawal from the program. Questions over federal funding and the waning potential for benefit to law enforcement prompted New York's withdrawal, while Wisconsin officials cited cost, privacy, and potential abuses as reasons for withdrawal.
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Title Annotation:Up front: news, trends & analysis
Author:Swartz, Nikki
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
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Next Article:India loosening centuries-old grip on information.

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