Thursday, May 20, 2004

Tone Deaf at the Top

Who are the geniuses in charge of symbolism in this f*cked-up administration, anyway? First comes news that the US is renaming the Abu Ghraib Prison 'Camp Redemption' (wags suggest the strategic addition of the word "Shawshank"); now we learn of a government project to measure one's 'terrorism quotient' that was called the "Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange", or 'MATRIX' for short.

NEW YORK - Before helping to launch the criminal information project known as Matrix, a database contractor gave U.S. and Florida authorities the names of 120,000 people who showed a statistical likelihood of being terrorists  sparking some investigations and arrests.

The "high terrorism factor" scoring system also became a key selling point for the involvement of the database company, Seisint Inc., in the Matrix project.

Public records obtained by The Associated Press from several states show that Justice Department officials cited the scoring technology in appointing Seisint sole contractor on the federally funded, $12 million project.

Seisint and the law enforcement officials who oversee Matrix insist that the terrorism scoring system ultimately was kept out of the project, largely because of privacy concerns.

However, new details about Seisint's development of the "terrorism quotient," including the revelation that authorities apparently acted on the list of 120,000, are renewing privacy activists' suspicions about Matrix's potential power.

"Assuming they have in fact abandoned the terrorist quotient, there's nothing that stops them from bringing it back," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union , which learned about the list of 120,000 through its own records request in Utah.

Matrix  short for Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange  combines state records and data culled by Seisint to give investigators fast access to information on crime and terrorism suspects. It was launched in 2002.

Because the system includes information on people with no criminal record as well as known criminals, Matrix has drawn objections from liberal and conservative privacy groups. Utah and at least eight other states have pulled out, leaving Florida, Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The AP has received thousands of pages of Matrix documents in records requests this year, including meeting minutes and presentation materials that discuss the project in detail.

Not one indicates that Matrix planners decided against using the statistical method of determining an individual's propensity for terrorism.

When the AP specifically requested documents indicating the scoring system was scrapped, the general counsel's office for Florida state police said it could not uncover any.

Even so, people involved with Matrix pledge that the statistical method was removed from the final product.

More at link, including this pot-calling-kettle paragraph: "Seisint Inc., is a Boca Raton, Fla., company founded by a millionaire, Hank Asher, who stepped down from its board of directors last year after revelations of past ties to drug smugglers." What's your Terrorism Quotient, citizen?

Department of Maximum Gall

Hastert, alumnus of the wrestling locker room, lectures McCain, alumnus of the Hanoi Hilton, on sacrifice.

Hastert: "If you want to see the sacrifice, John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda. There's the sacrifice in this country. We're trying to make sure they have the ability to fight this war, that they have the wherewithal to be able to do it. And, at the same time, we have to react to keep this country strong."

The concept of Hastert actually knowing anything more about sacrifice than McCain.... where do they go to get their gall-injections, anyway? And can anybody get some?


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