MATRIX rejection analyzed

Published July 22, 2004 2:40 am

Post-mortem: Former top cop blames Leavitt for not informing lawmakers
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Utah leaders' decision to drop out of the controversial MATRIX anti-terrorism project was a result of "miscommunication," according to the state's former top cop.

Doug Bodrero, president of the Florida-based Institute for Intergovernmental Research, which administers funds for the MATRIX, says then-Gov. Mike Leavitt's decision to enroll the state in the crime database without first informing state lawmakers and the public was a tactical error that eventually led the state to abandon the information-sharing system.

"The whole thing blew up," Bodrero told state lawmakers gathered Wednesday at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Salt Lake City. Bodrero worked as Utah's public safety commissioner for 12 years. "Everybody in Utah could have done a better job in communicating."

Originally launched after the 2001 terrorist attacks with 13 partners, including Utah, the MATRIX software was capable of searching public and private records for characteristics - including ethnicity, credit history and address - to predict a person's tendency to commit a crime.

Civil libertarians worried that law enforcement could use the database to profile or spy on innocent citizens. Lawmakers questioned the $1.5 million cost of participating in the database when federal grants run out. Utah eventually abandoned the MATRIX last March after a panel appointed by Gov. Olene Walker recommended leaving the pilot program.

Assistant U.S. Attorney for Utah Dave Schwendiman said MATRIX failed in Utah because "the political groundwork had not been laid properly."

Although just five states - Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania - still contribute public records to the database, Bodrero told lawmakers such collections of information are the future of anti-terrorism intelligence and crime-fighting.

"The world changed on Sept. 11. The world will never be the same. We're in asymmetrical warfare," Bodrero said. "We have no national information-sharing plan. And we need one. The terrorists are able to communicate. We need a better method to connect the dots."

The U.S. Department of Justice released a "National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan" this spring with 28 recommendations for law enforcement agencies to share information. Five other national databases and 15 smaller state information collections are culling public records for intelligence. And Bodrero warned legislators to tread carefully when introducing legislation to block information-sharing.

At the same time, Bodrero and others on the panel acknowledged that law enforcement's need for information has to be balanced with the public's civil rights.

"It does me little good to protect the country's citizens and institutions from physical catastrophe if I allow those rights to be sacrificed," Schwendiman said.

And Idaho Sen. Denton Darrington said: "I can see no violation of privacy in MATRIX. It's the greatest crime-fighting tool I've ever seen."

Bodrero said MATRIX operations have been changed since the state defections. New policies allow law enforcement agencies to maintain databases in their states, rather than sending the information to a central computer in Florida. And each state is represented on a board that oversees MATRIX operations.

The decision to return to MATRIX or join another intelligence-sharing program rests with Utah lawmakers.

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