DHS clarifies its controversial MATRIX pilot

The Homeland Security Department's controversial Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange program (MATRIX) did not engage in data mining, according to an annual report from the department's Privacy Office.

Data mining entails searching large databases of information to find patterns. The MATRIX system searched a data warehouse containing individual criminal records, driver's license and vehicle registration information, and other publicly available business data to discover patterns of behavior and ownership that could help authorities track down criminal suspects.

In their annual report, DHS described MATRIX as “simply...a 'proof of concept' project in which a private-sector company's database technology was used by a coalition of states to enable their law enforcement investigators to access state-owned or publicly available records.”

Civil liberties advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the system violated citizens' privacy. DHS countered that it intended MATRIX for use only in criminal cases.

The report attributed MATRIX's demise to its lack of privacy safeguards, which led to a loss of public trust and funding. MATRIX's pilot program ended in April 2005.

The report also asserted that data mining has “no set and agreed-upon definition.”

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