Matrix taps databases
System analyzes info to identify terrorists
- By William Welsh
- Aug 28, 2003
"Improved anti-terror efforts by law enforcement depend on setting up a truly collaborative processes for sharing information," said French Caldwell of Gartner Inc.
Henrik G. de Gyor
The departments of Homeland Security and Justice are supporting the creation of a new analytical tool that will help states battle terrorism by enabling them to quickly share and analyze information from multiple commercial and government databases.
The Multistate Antiterrorism Regional Information Exchange System, known as Matrix, will give law enforcement officers and other security officials in the public and private sectors access to data about suspicious individuals, Justice Department officials said.
The system, developed for Florida by Seisint Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., combines information about persons and property from commercial databases with information from criminal records databases to identify potential terrorists by using a sophisticated algorithm, said Jim Burch, acting deputy director for policy at the U.S. Bureau of Justice Affairs.
Seisint's algorithm appears to be better at cross-referencing information than those used by state law enforcement officials in the past, said Pat McCreary, senior policy adviser in the bureau's Information Technology Office.
"It's an automated process that police officers have used in the past, but with a much more efficient search method," he said.
Although Matrix was developed for Florida, it is part of an effort by all levels of governments to have real-time data that can be used to prevent terrorist attacks inside the United States. Matrix is the latest of several networks and exchanges that the Justice Department and FBI have developed for law enforcement officials to share information with each other.
Matrix and another network, the Antiterrorism Information Exchange, or ATIX, run off a secure intranet established as part of the bureau's Regional Information Sharing System. ATIX is primarily a way for law enforcement agencies to distribute information, whereas Matrix is an analytical tool for identifying possible terrorists.
The number of states participating in Matrix has more than doubled since an executive committee, under the auspices of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, was established to guide the effort in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. The project originally began as a way for five states -- Florida, Georgia, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania -- to share data, McCreary said. Since then the project has grown to include 13 states, he said.
A state that wants to participate in Matrix must sign a memorandum of understanding with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, agreeing that it will only issue the licenses that provide access to Matrix to individuals with the proper credentials, McCreary said. The state then receives 38 licenses to use during the pilot project, he said. Both individuals and agencies are required to sign agreements that hold them accountable for how the information is used.
"It's a small, controlled environment," McCreary said.
Matrix has received $4 million in counterterrorism funding from the Justice Department and will receive an additional $8 million in funding from the Homeland Security Department, the officials said.
Company officials at Seisint declined requests to be interviewed for this story. Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials also could not be reached for this story.
The Justice Department received $3.2 billion in homeland security funding for fiscal 2003, according to the Washington-based National Governors Association, which closely tracks homeland security funding for state government. That number will drop to $1 billion in fiscal 2004 as responsibility for the majority of homeland security initiatives shifts to the Homeland Security Department.
IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., also is developing a datamining system, known as Matchbox, for the federal government that allows the sharing of private and confidential information using secure hardware, said Chris Laidlaw, director of safety and security for IBM.
The company is demonstrating the technology for the commercial transportation industry, but is making it available for large government agencies to check individuals against watch lists, he said.
Matrix and other networks will be invaluable in countering terrorism, provided they have operational support for the classification and sharing of information structures, and serve not merely as databases, but also as a catalyst for greater regional and national collaboration, said French Caldwell, vice president and research director of global public policy with research firm of Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn.
"The worst thing that could happen would be to see the technology as an end in itself -- to set up a database and expect improvement from that alone," he said. "Improved anti-terror efforts by law enforcement depend on setting up a truly collaborative processes for sharing information and best practices, and enabling rapid collective action, no matter the locality."
Staff writer William Welsh can be reached at email@example.com.
William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.