August 14, 2003
Matrix Database May Substitute For Total Information Awareness Project

With the federal government having been effectively legislated and browbeaten out of the data mining business for capturing terrorists the activity has shifted to the states with Florida leading the way with a system called Matrix (Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange).

Organizers said the system, dubbed Matrix, enables investigators to find patterns and links among people and events faster than ever before, combining police records with commercially available collections of personal information about most American adults. It would let authorities, for instance, instantly find the name and address of every brown-haired owner of a red Ford pickup truck in a 20-mile radius of a suspicious event.

Some might see this as the triumph of federalism and the power of distributed networks where no one single large entity is in charge. Some might even see this as signs of the inevitability of as surveillance and data collection technologies spread far and wide in society and people sitting at home are even recruited to watch critical facilities remotely.

The database is being developed by a company called Seisint which already markets a commercial database service called Accurint which is a database service for locating people and past and present addresses.

Accurint uses a name, past address, phone number or Social Security Number to obtain the current name, address and phone number of targeted subjects. Using proprietary compilation of data sources and association algorithms, Accurint’s ability to deliver high-quality matches and find rates is unparalleled. Accurint can also provide previous addresses and location information for relatives, associates, and neighbors. As a result, Accurint is the most accurate and detailed source for forward-looking and historical views of consumer contact information.

By leveraging unmatched capability for processing billions of records per second, Accurint has compiled the world’s largest set of accessible location data. Accurint searches more than 20 billion records that cover recent relocation to historical addresses dating back 30 years and more. Individual queries are supported via web and client applications. For high-volume requests, Accurint provides on-demand batch capabilities, drastically reducing the cost of searches. For direct legacy application access Accurint supports XML API's.

With its unique combination of data, association algorithms and search technology, Accurint offers the best-performing solution in the marketplace.

Many companies have large databases of records of their transactions and contacts with millions of people and organizations. It is not a big stretch to use these databases to do data mining to look for activity that correlates with patterns found in investigations of known terrorists.

Clearly grasping at straws the Cato Institute is peddling the idea that automated systems of collection and analysis of information will drain resources from more productive approaches to finding terrorists.

Florida's database is similar in many ways to the Pentagon's controversial Terrorist Information Awareness program. In "Total Information Awareness for the Ages," Clyde Wayne Crews Jr., director of technology policy, writes: "Ironically, the project could also increase security risks. Even the Pentagon's resources are limited: Most people are not terrorists, and it can be a costly diversion to attempt to monitor the torrent of chatter that will be generated by this misguided program. Terrorists already immerse themselves in mainstream society, even using their real names and official government documents. They can learn and anticipate the trigger patterns that will supposedly generate red flags, and then avoid them."

The Florida project will simultaneously automate information searches for commonplace police investigations and also bring together data that can be mined to patterns of potential terrorist activity. As computers become cheaper and more powerful and as communications costs fall as well the trend is clearly running in the direction where computer automation becomes increasingly more cost effective than traditional methods of police and intelligence work.

The Berkeley Intellectual Property Weblog is also worried. (my emphases added)

But if each state collects and maintains citizen's data, each with different standards for correcting, aggregating and using the data, and if states string together their databases, as several states would like to collaborate with Florida to do (Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah so far in the MATRIX -- click here for their contacts list; and the District of Columbia and Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York in the DC program as reported by Spencer S. Hsu/WDC Post), I think we will have a far more dispersed and frightening problem than what the TIA proposed. Does this mean Safire, and Harrow do another round of columns, Congress and (hopefully) State Legislatures get involved to control this effort toward Too much surveillance (by Safire) of citizens? How effective can we as citizens be in asking for legislative oversight when there are so many different states and entities involved?

Things are spinning out of control? Woe is us? At the risk of sounding like I'm playing a broken record, these worrywarts show little sign of being familiar with science fiction writer David Brin's argument that the death of privacy is inevitable and our only choice is whether only governments or everyone will use the surveillance and data collection technologies which are continually advancing in sophistication and ease of use. In Brin's view we effectively face a choice between privacy and freedom. But those who scream loudest against government surveillance and data collection seem wholly unaware of Brin's analysis.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 August 14 08:49 PM  Surveillance Society

Jade James said at September 28, 2003 1:25 PM:

"these worrywarts show little sign of being familiar with science fiction writer David Brin's argument that the death of privacy is inevitable and our only choice is whether only governments or everyone will use the surveillance and data collection technologies which are continually advancing in sophistication and ease of use."

It is not a lack of familiarity that we, worrywarts, portray. It's a lack of acceptance that the loss of privacy is inevitable. To submit to the unconstitutional usurping of our privacy, by a government seeking to destroy everything we were founded on, is to say that we do not recognize our inherent rights of life, LIBERTY, and happiness. The government, whether Federal or State, has no right to monitor the citizens of the U.S. without reasonable suspicion of a crime. They are using fear from the "terrorist" threat to convince Americans to relinquish their rights without question.

If people do not actively fight the government's imposition on our freedom now, while we have the hope of doing so without violence, we will very soon lose that chance. If we do, the only way to resist our would-be dictators, will be through force. My parent's didn't raise me in the U.S. so that I could live in a Police State straight out of "1984".

The preservation of our freedom is the most noble and justifiable basis for dissent and revolution we, as private individuals, could possibly have. As Thomas Jefferson, one of the primary authors of the Constitution, said over and over again:

"Whenever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force." --Thomas
Jefferson: Kentucky Resolutions, 1798.

"It [is] inconsistent with the principles of civil liberty, and contrary to the natural rights of the other members of the society, that any body of men therein should have authority to enlarge their own powers... without restraint." --Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Allowance
Bill, 1778.

"Most codes extend their definitions of treason to acts not really
against one's country. They do not distinguish between acts
against the government, and acts against the oppressions of the
government. The latter are virtues, yet have furnished more
victims to the executioner than the former. Real treasons are
rare; oppressions frequent. The unsuccessful strugglers against
tyranny have been the chief martyrs of treason laws in all
countries." --Thomas Jefferson: Report on Spanish Convention, 1792.

"Lethargy is the forerunner of death to the public liberty."
--Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787.

"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782.

"[The purpose of a written constitution is] to bind up the several
branches of government by certain laws, which, when they
transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render
unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words a rebellion,
on every infraction of their rights, on the peril that their
acquiescence shall be construed into an intention to surrender
those rights." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782. Q.XIII

The country's current course is what the Founding Fathers were, so strenuously, warning us to guard ourselves against. Can you honestly say that the proper reaction to OUR government's blatant invasion of privacy is complacency? If you can't beat 'em, Join 'em? If you are not willing to fight for the freedom of other's, eventually there will be no one to fight for you.

They always attack the "troublemakers" first, but don't worry, they'll get around to you.

"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will." -Douglass, Frederick

Randall Parker said at September 28, 2003 3:24 PM:

Jade, You haven't told me any arguments I haven't already heard a long time ago. Yes, I know what Thomas Jefferson et. al. have said about freedom. A bunch of rousing quotes that do not directly address my argument are just a bunch of rousing quotes that do not directly address my argument.

Yes, I really really do think that the loss of privacy is inevitable. Yes, I really do think that technological trends make that an inevitability. Have you read science fiction writer David Brin on the subject? Have you thought about where it will lead when computers are several orders of magnitude faster and with several orders of magnitude more memory and when they are incredibly small and their sensors are incredibly small? Everyone will spy on everyone else. Not just goverment. Everyone. It is already happening. Read my Surveillance Society archive for lots of examples.

Do you think freedom is not possible without privacy? If so, why? Is it one of those truths that you think require no proof and that are just self-evident?

Tom Wolfe said at November 23, 2003 4:38 PM:

Change is inevitable. That the definition of freedom will change is also inevitable. As technology continues to accelerate, we all race to an unknown future. After America loses a city or two to terrorism, today's Americans, softened by decades of freedom bought by our ancestors, will be only too glad to give up major freedoms for some succssful surveilance.

Kathryn Robyn said at October 5, 2004 9:57 AM:

Sadly, it may be true that softened Americans will give up their freedoms to guard against unknown terrors...but let us wait at least until we have lost those two cities, not just imagined losing them. And let us put our own losses into perspective, taking into account both history and geography, rather than ignoring the losses of others and other times, before we rush headlong into that surrender. Let us not make ourselves susceptible to any number of con artists who would liberate us of that which we might have in abundance (our money, our labor, our liberty...) only to fill their own coffers with wealth or power, or what they will. Nothing is inevitable but change, but must we then accept any and all change that is thrust upon us by those who benefit by our acquiescence but not by our resistance? No. Let us be grown up citizens and consider the consequences before we sell ourselves out to business, bullies and bozos alike.

"You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." Abraham Lincoln

Alisha Imler said at August 23, 2009 11:50 PM:

Whoa man what a bunch of bull what happend to freedom and privacy? Bullshit i don't beleive it is for the detection of terrorism that is what they want us to think so we feel good about being watched 24-7 technology is being turned into a bad thing we have gotten through alot of years with no cameras or computers or internet and i will tell ya i liked it better back then. I get an eeerie feeling now every time i am outside they are watching me i just know it or maybe not but either way it is strange like twitter ?????track peoples lives???? Ohhhh yeah cuz i really wanna know that the neighbor just woke up and took a healthy dump and is now trimming his nose hair it is sick and wrong and people need to worry about their own lives and problems instead of watching and tracking someone elses. MIND YOUR OWN DAMNED BUSINESS PEOPLE JEEZE nosey people suck

Alisha Imler said at August 24, 2009 12:05 AM:

HA HA feds your jobs are gonna be took over by computers and cameras. And you will just be another pissed of citizen with no privacy then you will know how it feels to be watched and stripped of your privacy all the f%^ked up shit you do will be seen by all

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