Considering how quickly and easily database systems that collect citizen information can be abused, with personal data used against political opponents, as well as data reflecting massive mistakes that cause great harm to citizens, the reporting of the MATRIX program in Florida is alarming.
For examples of abuses happening now, see Grounding the Flying Nun by Dave Lindorff/Salon, who after making a remark about George Bush being dumb found herself on the "FBI no-fly list", along with some journalists and others included for political reasons, as well as folks who just had similar names to those who actually are criminals. Also, Andrew Gumbel/The Independent has this story on US anti-war activists hit by secret airport ban about political uses of the No-Fly list by the Transportation Security Administration.
On a national level, Congress has taken seriously their responsibility for oversight of the Total Information Awareness or Terrorism Information Awareness program. John Poindexter and the TIA/DARPA have found themselves responsible to Congress for their ideas (Reuters reports that Poindexter plans to offer his resignation over the latest TIA plan to use futures-trading market data to predict assassinations, terrorism and other events in the Middle East).
But if each state collects and maintains citizen's data, each with different standards for correcting, aggregating and using the data, and if states string together their databases, as several states would like to collaborate with Florida to do (Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah so far in the MATRIX -- click here for their contacts list; and the District of Columbia and Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York in the DC program as reported by Spencer S. Hsu/WDC Post), I think we will have a far more dispersed and frightening problem than what the TIA proposed. Does this mean Safire, and Harrow do another round of columns, Congress and (hopefully) State Legislatures get involved to control this effort toward Too much surveillance (by Safire) of citizens? How effective can we as citizens be in asking for legislative oversight when there are so many different states and entities involved?
Well, step one is in place: Robert O'Harrow Jr/Washington Post says that Florida is using our personal data in new and *interesting ways*, and the US government has taken note (specifically the Department of Homeland Security), as well as other states, wanting to use it to access our personal data to fight terrorists: U.S. Backs Florida's New Counterterrorism Database: 'Matrix' Offers Law Agencies Faster Access to Americans' Personal Records.
Florida officials say the system will be used only by authorized investigators under tight supervision. They said it includes information that has always been available to investigators but brings it together and enables police to access it with extraordinary speed.
Technical challenges include ensuring that data are accurate and that the system can be updated frequently.
"The power of this technology -- to take seemingly isolated bits of data and tie them together to get a clear picture in seconds -- is vital to strengthening our domestic security," said James "Tim" Moore, who was commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement until last month.
A senior official overseeing the project acknowledged it could be intrusive and pledged to use it with restraint. "It's scary. It could be abused. I mean, I can call up everything about you, your pictures and pictures of your neighbors," said Phil Ramer, special agent in charge of statewide intelligence. "Our biggest problem now is everybody who hears about it wants it."
Information submitted by a state may only be disseminated in accordance with restrictions and conditions placed on it by the submitting state, pursuant to the submitting state's laws and regulations. Information will be made available only to law enforcement agencies, and on a need-to-know and right-to-know basis. Data access permissions will be conditioned on the privileges of the user making the inquiry.
But what is that? How do we know the MATRIX system builders are protecting their systems from cackers (think identity theft paradise) or those who may want information but don't have proper clearance, and what is the mechanism for overseeing that properly accessed information is not improperly used against people? Who will have oversight, who will track this ongoing, who will make sure this system does not deteriorate into the Nixon enemies list or some other big brother attempt to control citizen's unlawfully?Posted by Mary Hodder at August 06, 2003 08:37 AM | TrackBack