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THE NATION

2 More States Turn Against Massive Anticrime Database

March 12, 2004|From Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York and Wisconsin are the latest states to pull out of an anticrime database program that civil libertarians say endangers citizens' privacy rights.

Five states remain involved in Matrix out of about a dozen that had signed up to share criminal, prison and vehicle information with one another and cross-reference the data with privately held databases.

Concern about federal funding and the waning potential for benefit to law enforcement prompted New York's withdrawal, said Lynn Rasic, a spokeswoman for the New York State Office of Public Security.

The administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation cited cost, privacy and potential abuses of such a large database.

Known formally as Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, Matrix links government records with up to 20 billion records in databases held by Seisint Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla.

The Seisint records include details on property, boats and Internet domain names that people own, their address history, utility connections, bankruptcies, liens and business filings, according to an August report by the Georgia state Office of Homeland Security.

The American Civil Liberties Union has complained that Matrix could be used by state and federal investigators to compile dossiers on people who have never been suspected of a crime. Seisint officials have said safeguards are built into the system to prevent such abuses.

"We're pleased New York has finally seen the light and opted out of this data-mining program that would allow the government to troll billions of private, personal records for information they have no business getting," said Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

New York started questioning Matrix when several other states dropped out because of privacy or cost concerns, Rasic said. Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and West Virginia have left or declined to join after considering it.

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