Two More States Withdraw From Database Program

New York and Wisconsin have pulled out of the controversial Matrix program, leaving just five states out of more than a dozen that had signed up to share information.

Larry Greenemeier, Contributor

March 12, 2004

2 Min Read

New York and Wisconsin are the latest states to bow out of the Multistate Antiterrorism Information Exchange, known as Matrix,, a pilot project for interstate data sharing among law-enforcement officials. Two years after the Justice and Homeland Security departments put up $12 million to create Matrix, only five of the 16 states originally invited to participate in the program remain.

Matrix's ability to retain members is having a domino affect on membership. New York weighed a number of factors but ultimately was concerned with the project's viability, given that two-thirds of the member states had dropped out, says Lynn Rasic, spokeswoman for the New York State Office of Public Security. "The value of the program isn't the same if you don't have participation," she says.

Wisconsin did a quick about-face concerning its membership in Matrix, dropping out after signing on just a month ago. Wisconsin's attorney general's office could not be reached.

There was also a question as to whether states would get funding for the technology needed to participate. Local, state, and federal law-enforcement agencies located within each state participating in Matrix use the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) secure intranet as the communications backbone to connect as nodes to a supercomputer hosted by Seisnet Inc., a Boca Raton, Fla., company.

This means that law enforcement in Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania can use the intranet to send and retrieve criminal history, driver license, vehicle registration and other information, including digitized photos, related to ongoing criminal or terrorism cases.

Charter Matrix participants Georgia and Utah both left the project in January. Georgia formally stopped participating in the program at the request of Gov. Sonny Perdue. A day earlier, Utah Gov. Olene Walker called for her state to put its participation on hold and formed an oversight committee to analyze the security and social implications of interstate data sharing. These states join Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Carolina as former Matrix participants.

The departure of New York and Wisconsin from Matrix detracts from the program's overall objective of nationwide connectivity and information sharing, says Mark Zadra, chief of investigations for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's office of statewide intelligence. "New York in particular has a tremendous amount of records that would be valuable throughout the country," he told InformationWeek on Friday.

Despite the defections, Matrix continues to be a viable program, Zadra says, adding that Matrix members continue to meet with and recruit new states. Some states have cited privacy concerns as a reason to keep Matrix at arm's length. But Zadra says arguments over privacy create a misperception of the program. Law-enforcement officials, for example, are not permitted to access the system unless they are researching a criminal or terrorism-related case.

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