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10/11/2003 Archived Entry: "What keeps the Matrix going?"

BY NOW, YOU'VE HEARD OF THE MATRIX. No, not the movie, but the incredible snoop database that's taking over where the Pentagon's infamous Terrorizing Information Awareness system left off.

The Matrix is a state-level system designed to help cops catch baddies by tracking every possible thing about everybody. (After all, a baddie may visit your house or ride in your car or be related to you by marriage; who knows?) The idea is to be able to find these bad guys by knowing whose house they might go to or whom they might telephone ... or, well, to know anything about anybody. So the owners of the Matrix are trying to get all states to add all kinds of data -- including YOUR social security number, drivers license fingerprint, vehicle make and model, driving history, home address, etc. to their database. Oh, and did we mention your past addresses, neighbors' names and addresses, your current and past telephone numbers, marriage and divorce records, family members' names and addresses, and a few more items, to boot?

After initial interest, five states have backed out of participating in the Matrix. That's good. What's not-so-good is that their decisions have apparently been based largely on the cost of participating, not on principle. (Government? Principle? Sorry to sound so naive.) What's also not-so-good is that more states are still itching to sign on. The above-linked article comes from Georgia, one of the latest to sniff around the tempting database. The online, unscientific poll accompanying the article says 87 percent of readers oppose having their info peddled. But then, people are SO unscientific. Surely their government knows what's best for them.

The Matrix database is private, BTW, owned and operated by a company called Seisint. Seisint was founded by, and the database was the brainchild of, an admitted drug smuggler, Hank Asher. Does this confirm some suspicions you might already have about just how "savory" today's law-enforcement community is? But not to worry. Asher was never actually convicted of anything. It seems he admitted he merely flew five or seven planeloads of cocaine to the U.S. from Columbia, and since that was just a perfectly understandable "error in judgment," it was okay with the authorities.

Anybody who smells any dealmaking between rich cocaine importers and Florida officials (the Matrix originated in Florida) is no doubt just paranoid. Asher left the Matrix project after his background came to light and his Seisint stock is now in a blind trust. So all is cool. Your data will be managed well, with perfect security, and entirely for your own benefit. No police agency will ever misuse it. No hacker will ever crack it. No data error will ever get your house surrounded by ninjas or invaded by goons with flash-bang grenades and MP5 machine guns. And the only aim of law enforcers is to protect us.

But for one, I'd have been happier if Asher had stayed in an honest, free-market trade, rather than getting himself involved with this sort of sleaze.

Zero tolerance for Big Brother? Just say no to surveillance? Now there's a thought.

(Thanks to E.G. for the pointer to the Georgia article. It's important to keep an eye on the Matrix -- and to do so from outside of it!)

Posted by Claire @ 10:31 AM CST

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