Earlier this year there was a lot of talk about the "MATRIX" (Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange) that would link up a variety of databases for law enforcement officials to get faster access to data about possible criminals and criminal activity. There has been a loud backlash against the system by privacy activists - and while that's made some states back off, others have moved forward. Defenders of the system insist that since all they're doing is making use of information that is already available to them, there are no privacy questions. All they've really done is made it faster to get useful information for investigations. However, now a story has come out that the original system went well beyond that to give people a "terrorist quotient" suggesting how likely they were to be a terrorist. The article also notes that the initial test of the system came up with 120,000 potential terrorists - and helped trigger a number of law enforcement actions. If it really is just analyzing data that is already available, and simply flagging individuals for further investigation, is that really such a big deal? It's just a more data intensive version of profiling. The real risk with such a system is that it would allow people who shouldn't have access to get data on people they shouldn't have data on. However, if it's actually being used to track down criminals, what's the problem? Obviously, if law enforcement relies to strongly on the "terrorist quotient" as an indicator of guilt, that would be a problem. But, if it's just used to alert them to potential problems, and is using data they already have available, the privacy issue doesn't seem to be as big a deal. If the system is used properly, it's not that problematic. The real issue is having some openness about what data is being included, who has access to the system, and how the data is being used.
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