Remember the Matrix database?

Matrix, the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, is a criminal intelligence database developed for a number of state governments’ law enforcement agencies in the United States. When it first became known last year, it was reported that database included a worrying feature: a statistical indicator of the likelyhood of an individual being a terrorist.

Even though the U.S. federal Government has cut funding for Matrix and the pilot project was discontinued, the Associated Press now reports that similar projects are still going ahead. Florida, Ohio, Connecticut and Pennsylvania are still using the software.

The law enforcement officials who are in favour say it’s just a search engine:

…law officers bent on keeping the Matrix alive say the information already is out there anyway for companies to use for less noble purposes. Law enforcement always has used such information; it just never had a big computer search tool to quickly find links between people and places.

“The media uses that data; attorneys use it; banks use it,” said Mark Zadra, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent in charge of the system. “We’ve been using online data like that for 10 to 15 years. What this does is link those. … What took law enforcement so long to use technology and get into the 21st century?”

Created by Florida law enforcement officials working with a one-time drug-running pilot-turned-millionaire computer whiz named Hank Asher, it was conceived as a way for states to combine data they have on people — driving records and criminal histories, for example — with similar records from other states.

In one of the classic characteristics of what is sometimes called the “surveillant assemblage” of many Little Brothers, the system combines data from once-discrete sources, some public, some private:

The company that Asher founded but no longer works for, Seisint, also added to Matrix information gathered in the private sector, including some of what credit card companies collect, such as names, addresses and Social Security numbers — though actual credit histories were not included.

However the politics of this particular project pan out, I have little doubt that this is the direction we’re heading. What Google has done for the Internet, other people with problems to solve will do for proprietary databases and sensitive public records about individuals.