Investigators Need Matrix Information, Top CT Police Official Tells Lawmakers
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut's top state police official told state lawmakers Tuesday that a multistate intelligence database represents the future of law enforcement.
Without it, Col. Timothy Barry said, "It's kind of like fighting with one hand behind your back."
Privacy advocates have criticized the database, known as Matrix, as an encroachment on civil liberties. Several states have already backed out of the program, and an oversight committee in Utah met for the first time Tuesday to evaluate the state's participation.
Barry said Matrix allows police to combine law enforcement data with information from other public records, including property holdings, professional licenses, sex offender lists and incorporation papers.
The resulting database, he said, would allow officers to identify kidnapping suspects and locate fugitives.
"We can reduce the time from days and weeks to seconds and minutes," he said.
Critics of the program have questioned its effectiveness.
"What has been done with the information so far? Has anything good happened? Have we caught a terrorist?" Oregon state Sen. Michael Waddoups asked at Tuesday's hearing in Utah.
Matrix, short for the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, began in 2002 in Florida, whose Department of Law Enforcement received a $12 million federal grant for a pilot program. A condition of the grant was that Florida make available to states up to $25,000 to purchase the Matrix software.
Barry Steinhardt, a technology director with the American Civil Liberties Union, told lawmakers in Connecticut that the database could be tracking private information about individuals.
"I'm a little perplexed by such stark disagreement," Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold, said, referring to the different opinions of police and privacy advocates. "It's almost like two different worlds we're talking about here."
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has requested more information about the program, citing privacy concerns. He did not attend Tuesday's hearing but a spokesman said he is reviewing program materials.
The Connecticut legislature's Public Safety Committee held the hearing in response to privacy concerns. The panel is not expected to make a recommendation about the program.
State investigators have made about 1,000 requests to the database since it went online in November, officials said.
The states using the program include Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Committee members in Utah will study the issue and will not make any recommendations for at least two months.