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New york wisconsin opt out of anti crime database

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Posted on Thu, Mar. 11, 2004
New York, Wisconsin opt out of anti-crime database

Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - New York and Wisconsin have joined the list of states that have pulled out of an anti-crime database program that civil libertarians say endangers citizens' privacy rights.

Just five states now remain involved in Matrix out of more than 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.

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

In a letter earlier this week, New York State Police Lt. Col. Steven Cumoletti noted that as more states withdraw, Matrix's usefulness diminishes.

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

"When you added it all up, there were more negatives than positives," said the administrator, Jim Warren. He said the state signed up for Matrix about a month ago, but withdrew this week without having put any money into it or trained anyone.

Known formally as Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, Matrix links government records with up to 20 billion records in databases held by Seisint Inc., a private company based 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.

Officials with Seisint and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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 all left or declined to join after actively considering it.

"It was going to end up costing a lot for something we already had," Tela Mange, Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, said Thursday.

Matrix, short for the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, began in 2002 in Florida. Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania also remain participants in the program, which was helped by $12 million in initial funding from the federal government.

Julie Norris, spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, said the state plans to stick with Matrix, considering it "a powerful investigation tool" that uses information already available through public records.

"It allows for an intelligent search that is quick, fast and efficient," she said.

The Michigan State Police use Matrix on a limited basis and continue to support it, said spokeswoman Shanon Akans.

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