Data Sharing Between States At Risk

Some states drop out of Project Matrix because of privacy and cost concerns
One of the earliest post-9/11 attempts at intergovernmental data sharing appears to be running aground as various states find that privacy, data security, and cost concerns outweigh the benefits of state-of-the-art criminal-tracking and -identification technology.

Georgia and Utah are the most recent defectors. Both are charter members of the Multistate Antiterrorism Information Exchange, known as Project Matrix, which lets law-enforcement agencies share criminal-history, driver's-license, vehicle-registration, and other data to prevent terrorism. Gov. Olene Walker put a hold on Utah's participation Jan. 29 and formed a committee to assess the security and social implications. Georgia pulled out the next day. They join Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Carolina, which have pulled out in the last six months. Six of the 16 states originally invited to participate remain and are recruiting new members.

States have dropped out for various reasons. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue raised questions in October about sharing driver's-license and vehicle-registration data after the state attorney general said state law prevents sharing that information. Project Matrix may make sense for homeland security, says Gib Heuett, assistant deputy director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Crime Information Center, "but the public has to be able to live with it."

Texas, like California, considered joining Project Matrix but officially decided against it last summer after learning it would cost $1.7 million a year for licenses to access the system. That's in addition to as much as $130,000 to build the infrastructure to become a node on the Regional Information Sharing Systems, a secure intranet that connects to a supercomputer hosted by a Seisint Inc., says Marshall Caskey, chief of criminal law enforcement for the Texas Public Safety Department. Texas and Georgia participate in the Criminal Information Sharing Alliance, which doesn't have Matrix's search capabilities but lets states manage their own data, Caskey says. "With Matrix, they're selling your data back to you."

Despite these setbacks, Iowa and North Carolina are considering joining. Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania remain part of the network, which uses Seisint's proprietary algorithms, compilation techniques, and retrieval technology to access billions of records. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement manages and secures the database. "I'd be appalled as a citizen [to find out] that the state had data and wasn't utilizing information to the fullest extent," says Mark Zadra, chief of investigations for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's office of statewide intelligence.

The project highlights the post-9/11 struggle to balance safety against privacy, says Jeffrey Hunker, a Carnegie Mellon University professor of technology and public policy and former senior director for critical infrastructure at the National Security Council. "A network of information sharing and data mining among law enforcement is both appropriate and inevitable," he says. "What I don't see with Matrix is a system of checks and balances."

The Justice and Homeland Security departments launched Matrix in January 2002, providing $12 million for a pilot project. Matrix members are putting together a proposal for continued federal funding and possible federal oversight of the program, Florida's Zadra says. Hunker suggests that an agency such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology or the National Security Agency might be able to do the job.

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