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Local civil rights advocates are increasingly anxious over a new multistate law enforcement information-sharing initiative. And it’s not just due to visions of Keanu Reeves battling world-dominating computers inspired by the program’s name: the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, or MATRIX, for short. Connecticut Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Teresa Younger last week said her organization was alarmed by state Department of Public Safety Commissioner Arthur Spada’s remarks in a December letter to state troopers promising: “The Matrix … will disgorge a subject’s every financial, economic, residence and spending profile. Aldous Huxley’s 1983 has arrived,” Spada declared in the one-paragraph description of the program in his “Commissioner’s Perspective” on law enforcement efforts in 2003. Huxley’s “Brave New World,” published in 1932, is a bitterly satiric depiction of a society controlled by technology, in which art and religion are abolished and human beings reproduce by artificial fertilization. It is often compared with George Orwell’s “1984.” Younger said she is concerned about Spada’s comments, especially because the CCLU is still waiting to hear from him regarding a state Freedom of Information request it filed in October, seeking specifics about the program — such as what information can be obtained by law enforcement officials, who will have access to it, what will happen to the information once it is used and how much the program will eventually cost the state. “Are they creating this massive database on residents in Connecticut just because?” Younger asked. “The fact that he [Spada] has announced [the MATRIX program] without giving us the information we requested concerns me,” she added. “I am even more frustrated to hear that he [Spada] would use the kind of language [in his letter] that would only elicit more fear.” Reached last week, Spada said he was surprised by the reaction to the off-the-cuff remarks in his letter. (He conceded that he didn’t even get his reference right. It should have been to Orwell’s “1984,” he said.) Spada said the MATRIX program is up and running, but added that he was uncertain if his staff had utilized it yet. His office, Spada noted, will evaluate whether to keep using the program past March, when federal funding for it runs out. Even he seems taken back by the government’s snooping abilities. “I don’t see where you can hide,” Spada said of the program. “I am shocked when I am informed that [law enforcement] knows about your investments, [specifics] of your residence and how you are spending your money and on what. It is amazing the information that is out there.” Spada said he has had a brief telephone conversation with Younger, and the group’s FOI request is being considered. The MATRIX program is an effort by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to build or improve information-sharing programs to prevent terrorist attacks and improve police work — a process that trades stronger vigilance for complaints of information overload. Eight states now participate in a federally-funded effort: Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Utah. Although most of the initiatives are still in the early stages, they mark a dramatic expansion of law enforcement technology and a shift away from the turf wars that have prevented such efforts in the past, say many law enforcement officials. “Prior to 9-11, there was a void in intelligence outside the federal arena,” said Maj. John Buturla, deputy director of Homeland Security for the Connecticut State Police. A widespread demand for more law enforcement intelligence began immediately after the 9-11 attacks of 2001 and was the main focus of the 2002 meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. From that meeting, and the yearlong work of a committee of federal, state and local officials, emerged the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan, released in October, which outlines 28 technical and policy recommendations to create a national criminal intelligence network. At the same time, various programs have sprouted to give non-federal investigators more access to sensitive, but unclassified, information about potential terrorists and criminals. Technological advances are also increasing police intelligence by allowing faster access to information in other regions of the country. “We’re in the beginning stages of an information-exchange future,” said Gerard P. Lynch, executive director of the Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN), with headquarters in Newtown, Pa. The organization is one of six existing Regional Information Sharing Systems begun in 1974 to help states fight crime across borders. In September 2002, those regional networks were linked to the FBI’s Law Enforcement Online system, an electronic environment where users can exchange information via ListServes, chat rooms and e-mail. The National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS), a nonprofit owned and governed by the states since 1966, also has a link to the FBI’s network. But it is moving to a more web-friendly interface so that users can search for information with an Internet browser and wireless technologies. The system gives police access to motor vehicle and drivers data, INS databases and state criminal history records. More than 34 million messages are transacted each month. In November, Wisconsin and Kentucky became the first two states to issue criminal histories to NLETS in the new format, and Florida, Maine and Texas have similar projects underway. Several other regional and statewide programs also have begun recently. For example, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York are piloting an information exchange that would give access to federal and state court records, as well as child and human services and motor vehicle agencies, among others. But all of the information available to law enforcement is not always necessary, said Terry Treschuk, police chief in Rockville, Md., just outside the nation’s capitol. The point of local and municipal police departments is primarily to take care of every day needs. “It’s an awful lot of information, and you just have to cull … through it,” Treschuk said. Most police departments have fewer than 24 officers and cannot devote personnel to monitoring all of the information, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “Any information overload is a product of our needs in a post-9-11 world,” said Connecticut’s Buturla. “The information can be cumbersome, but it’s better than before 9-11.” To help smaller departments, the Pennsylvania State Police has opened an around-the-clock information gathering and analysis center to filter and disseminate relevant intelligence. Despite the flurry of new initiatives and the release of a national plan, law enforcement has not yet created a central intelligence framework. “The ideal is a network of databases,” said Lynch of the Regional Information Sharing Systems network. But the increased focus on information-sharing is a signal that different levels of law enforcement are working together better than in the past, officials said. Then, federal agencies such as the FBI were reluctant to share information with state and local law enforcement, said Thomas R. Rekus, a former FBI special agent who is now a liaison to local law enforcement for the federal Intelink Management Office. “There are absolutely cultural differences,” he said. “Those are not necessarily a bad thing, unless they get in the way of working together.” “I’m seeing a willingness by most groups to share their toys and play nicely in the sand box,” Rekus said, echoing remarks by former FBI Director Louis Freeh. Treschuk also said that attitudes had improved. “There’s always been a little bit of a schism because of the different focus,” Treschuk said. “But there’s been a vast improvement.” Eric Keldeman of Stateline.org contributed to this article.

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