MATRIX Reloaded


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today released a White Paper about the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (MATRIX) program. Among the points they stress are that this alleged state-based program is in fact both funded and managed by the federal Department of Homeland Security; and that it contains controversial "data mining" aspect that helped scuttle the planned Total Information Awareness program.

From the ACLU press release announcing the paper:

Another document obtained by the ACLU indicated that Matrix operators sent to federal law enforcement authorities a list of 120,000 names of individuals who had been scored with a high "terrorism quotient." Seisint, the company that operates Matrix, claimed that scores of arrests resulted from the list.

Among the considerations that go into the terrorism quotient, according to a Seisint presentation discussed in the White Paper, are age and gender; credit history; ethnicity; "pilots or associations to pilots"; Social Security number anomalies; and how they ship and receive packages.

NEXT: The Trail Goes Cold

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Wow, I wonder if I’m on it. I ship a lot of books and documents to the Middle East and Central Asia for work, and we have to use bizarre alternative shippers or else it doesn’t get there, so my name is on a lot of packages. Glad I don’t have to fly any time soon.

  2. I bet my sister’s boyfriend’s on it. He’s a Finn whose boyhood home backed up to the Soviet border. He pilots cargo flights from the US to Asia, and ships loads of stuff to his mother in Africa using FedEx (whom my sister flies for).

  3. Feel free to decry this badly mis-named initiative [Collossus or Big Brother would be only worst namesI ould think of] but there are some issues to consider:

    a) Could this be a useful tool in combatting terrorism?

    b) What are the processes used to change information into action, i.e what rules will the investigation have to follow if they start one?

    c) Have you objected at all when “pulling his phone records” caught an obnoxious crook on tv? No? Then how is this substantially different?

    There are numerous subtle issues to deal with and many of them are quite beyond the average Washington policy wonk – the false negative & false positive rates being major ones. But one point remains: if you ever demanded that the Feds “get their act together” about the War on Terror, you have to admit that this project is exactly what “getting their act together” entails.

    So, you can debate all you want, but you can not honestly accuse them of inaction or indifference. In short, this is what we get when we damand action.

    BTW, it just might work.

  4. I would love to be a member of the ACLU. Except that they are pussies.

    “Our job is to conserve America’s original civic values – the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

    pshaw. They conveniently neglect the 2nd Amendment.

  5. I’m kind of with “Old Fan” why is this wrong? Avoid the Libertarian Philosphy please, about “Big Brother”, just walk me thru the practical/ethical issues regarding this sort of program.

    Would it be OK if TRW collected the same information and ran the same analysis and then sold the “Quotient” numbers to the airlines or other private entities?

    If that’s not a violation of my “privacy” why is this? Again, I emphasize that this is not rhetorical skepticism, I am honestly curious about why this may be a bad thing.

    It might be an INEFFECTIVE thing, too. That’s a separate issue, but one that could be addressed. The thing to do would be to run the 9-11 crew thru the d-base, the WTC bombing crew, and the African Embassy bombing crew thru the system and see if it would have flagged them AND to see how many other folks it would have flagged…

    IF the system named all 19-20 of the 9-11 gang and only 100 to 1000 other people it might be acceptable, but if it named all 19-20 but also 20,000 other people its value is lessened.

  6. Seems like a lot a bother, getting “scores” (120 would be six score) of arrests from a list of 120,000…

    I would not be worried if I were on such a list and have no objection to such lists being produced by the police. Marketers have been doing worse for years!

    So long as the arrests are based on somewhat more substantial evidence than shipping a book!

  7. “pilots or associations to pilots”

    I really hope they are more forward thinking than this.

  8. OldFan,

    “What are the processes used to change information into action, i.e what rules will the investigation have to follow if they start one?”

    Being something of a national security law expert I could go into some detail the matter.

    Here are the basics though:

    If the person is an American citizen, and they are not suspected of being allied with a “foreign power” (the so-called “Timothy McVeigh scenario”), then one has to go through all the same processes a regular criminal investigation has to go through regarding warrants, etc.

    Under FISA, an individual working for a “foreign power” (whether it applies to an American citizen or a person with close ties to the U.S. – say a resident alien – depends on a more stringent set of factors) but doing so in the U.S. has somewhat less protection (this gets into the whole topic of the so-called “wall” and whatnot).

    Finally, if the surveillance is overseas, especially if the individual is not a so-called “U.S. person” (meaning American citizen or someone without significant contacts with the U.S.), then any sort of surveillance, etc. is allowed (so long as the intelligence service isn’t caught by a foreign government doing it).

  9. I just wonder how significant blogging is on the catalog of suspect activities.

  10. “pilots or associations to pilots”

    Pilots, I have seen your future…

    …and it is gun control.

    After all, why do you need to fly all those private planes? Are your enjoyment and convenience worth the risks if those planes get in the wrong hands? Aren’t you more likely to die in a plane crash than to save your life using a plane? If you’re flying planes for personal enjoyment, you shouldn’t mind not being allowed near populated areas: Why should you care what you’re flying over? Don’t you realize that scheduled commercial flights are much safer? Don’t you think the sale of aircraft should be more carefully regulated? Why does anybody other than an airline or a licensed charter service need an aircraft? Shouldn’t we check into the legitimacy of all these “one-plane” charter services? Shouldn’t pilot’s licenses be renewed more frequently?

  11. Now let’s see. I have no credit history (getting into any kind of debt is against my personal belief), I always pay in cash and I ship to and receive many packages from overseas. I guess I’d better arrive for my next flight four hours prior to boarding time, so that they can search me.

  12. This sort of database activity has never been shown to produce effective results. My belief is that it never will be shown to produce effective results.

    This is the modern-day equivalent of measuring peoples heads to determine future criminal behavior.

    What this is, in reality, is a deliberate attempt by IT (Information Technology) professionals to rip-off innocent American taxpayers through ignorant American civil servants and corrupt American politicians.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.