Doing Right, for Unclear Reasons
New York State Drops Out Of Matrix 
By Glenn Weiser 
Metroland, March 18, 2004 

The day after this story ran, Assemblyman Pete Grannis called me to say that several NYS lawmakers had read my Feb.12 Metroland story on MATRIX, "Spy, Spy, Again," and led by state senator Liz Kruger, voiced strong objections to the NYS police. New York subsequently pulled out of the program. - GW
New York state has withdrawn from a multistate anticrime/antiterrorism database program that has been assailed by civil libertarians as a threat to privacy, a state official announced last Thursday [“Spy, Spy Again,” Newsfront, Feb. 12].

According to a March 11 Associated Press report, Lynn Rasic, a spokesperson for the New York State Office of Public Security, said that concerns over the continuation of federal funding and the diminished benefits of remaining in a project in which the number of states has dwindled spurred New York’s decision to pull out. Of the 13 states originally involved in the program, which had received $12 million in grants from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, only five—Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Connecticut and Pennsylvania—are still sharing information.

The MATRIX (short for Multistate Antiterrorism Information Exchange) program had been launched by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in conjunction with the Seisint Corp. to pool the law enforcement and motor vehicle records of several state governments with commercial data such as property and civil court records, bankruptcies, liens, and business filings into a searchable database. The proponents of the effort had billed it as it potent tool against crime and terrorism, but critics decried the program as a clandestine attempt to revive the Pentagon’s disbanded Total Information Awareness project. In New York state, assemblymen Alexander B. “Pete” Grannis (D-Manhattan) and William L. Parment (D-Jamestown) condemned MATRIX as a violation of privacy rights.

“We think New York recognized that this is a dangerous program with great potential to invade people’s privacy and violate their civil liberties,” said Christopher Calabrese, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Although several states cited privacy concerns as a reason for dropping out of the program, it is unclear if New York shared that view. Telephone calls to Lynn Rasic seeking to clarify this were not returned.

But in a March 9 letter from Lt. Col. Steven Cumoletti of the New York State Police explaining New York’s reasons for leaving the project to Matrix chairman Guy Tunnell, who is also the commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Cumoletti conveys no such worries. “To date, nearly two-thirds of the original states have opted out. The uncertainty of continued funding and the valid concerns about the feasibility of expanding the project . . . have been the most crucial reasons provided for withdrawing,” he wrote.

Moreover, further battles over police powers and civil liberties may lie ahead: Cumoletti states that “the need to provide law enforcement investigators with improved access to information and data sources that are legally available to them remains more critical today than ever before,” and assures Tunnell that “the New York State Police remain receptive to exploring other efforts to improve law enforcement information sharing and to improve the overall capabilities of law enforcement in our nation.”

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser                     Copyright 2004 Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.

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