Have a Michigan driver’s license? Your personal information is now part of a highly secret, potentially illegal multistate database operated by a private corporation. What’s wrong with that? Let’s not forget the only reason Bush is president is that in 2000, Republican operatives in Florida including that State’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris expunged tens of thousands of people from the voter rolls even if their names were only somewhat similar to the name of a person who had committed a felony through the (intentionally) clumsy use of computer databases. The undemocratic uses of massive, secret databases are plentiful, and there are plenty of innocent Americans unable to fly, or who face intense security screening if they attempt to, because their names are similar to people who may or may not have any connection to terrorism whatsoever.

Yes, guilt by association was a key component to 1950’s McCarthyism, and the USA PATRIOT act established at least one new computerized database in the name of security. This trend torwards a neo-McCarthyism in America, super-charged with computer technology, has been described by Vijay Prashad, one of the participants in the SAAN conference I attended a few weeks ago in an article he has titled: “The Green Menace: McCarthyism after 9/11” I think McCarthyism is a good way to think about the plight of former Ann Arbor resident Rabih Haddad (see my page on Mr. Haddad) and his family – although never convicted of any crime, and although the government wasn’t able to even produce any convincing evidence connecting him to criminal activity, the charity organization he helped found was raided repeatedly, had their funds frozen, and was blacklisted as officially “suspicious.” Finally, though the selective application of a mild immigration violation he and his family were effectively forced to leave the country, even though he intended to take up permanent residence here and was heavily invested in the community.

“DETROIT – Following a news report released yesterday in which the Michigan State Police admit that it has released information to a multistate police database, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today submitted a third “Freedom of Information Act” request about Michigan?s participation in the new “MATRIX” surveillance system. This admission comes on the heels of the state denying involvement in the program in response to two previous FOIA requests.

… Even the Michigan Secretary of State has raised the privacy issue of a program such as MATRIX and has warned the MSP that it may be in violation of the 1997 Michigan Driver Privacy Protection Act,” added Moss. …

According to Congressional testimony and news reports, the MATRIX (which stands for “Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange”) creates dossiers about individuals from government databases and private-sector information companies that compile files on Americans’ activities for profit. It then makes those dossiers available for search by federal and state law enforcement officers. In addition, MATRIX computer programs comb through the millions of files in a search for “anomalies” that may be indicative of terrorist or other criminal activity.

While company officials have refused to disclose details of the program, according to news reports the kind of information to be searched includes credit histories, driver’s license photographs, marriage and divorce records, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and the names and addresses of family members, neighbors and business associates.

Raising even more issues, the Matrix is operated by a private company, Seisint Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida. Ironically, the company’s founder was forced to resign after buried information about his own past came to light: according to Florida police, he was formerly a drug smuggler who had piloted multiple planeloads of cocaine from Colombia to the U.S.

Two other states, Georgia and Texas, have already withdrawn their involvement because of legal and financial concerns. According to a letter from the Texas Department of Public Safety, “The fiscal responsibility in participating in this endeavor cannot be reconciled in view of existing budget constraints and the potential recurring out year cost of over $140,000 per month. Further, there are other legal, ethical and financial considerations in providing non-public data sets at our expense to a private company to sell back to us.”

“We’re concerned that the state may be in violation of more than one law and we will be looking toward litigation, if necessary, to protect the privacy of Michigan citizens,” Moss stated. …”

> ACLU of Michigan PR: “ACLU Questions Michigan State Police Involvement in Data Surveillance Program”

Thanks to Steve Cherry for posting on this, who also found use of an excerpt from George Orwell’s 1984.

Author: Rob