Lawsuit Filed Against Michigan State Police

August 03, 2004

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit late yesterday on behalf of the organization and three individuals, including former Michigan Governor William Milliken and a Catholic nun, asking the court to stop the Michigan State Police (MSP) from participating in the Multi-State Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (MATRIX) until they are willing to comply with state law.

"We filed this lawsuit because we believe that it is not unreasonable for the Michigan State Police to follow a law signed by Governor Milliken that simply requires that they first seek the approval of the legislature before participating in this type of program and that a citizen oversight body be employed to ensure there is no abuse of this data," said ACLU Executive Director Kary Moss.

The Interstate Law Enforcement Intelligence Organizations Act (ILEIOA) was signed into law by Governor Milliken in 1980. The law was meant to prevent unsupervised and uncontrolled access to information about individuals.  

“I signed this act into law in order to protect the privacy of individual citizens and, at the same time, provide law enforcement agencies with the tools they need,” said Governor Milliken.  “Nearly 25 years later, the technology has changed, but the privacy rights of Michigan citizens remain the same.”

Sister Elizabeth LaForest, a peace activist, has been arrested and convicted of trespassing for participating in non-violent anti-war protests.  Her arrest and criminal records have been or will be shared by the MSP with MATRIX, as will Governor Milliken’s driver’s license and motor vehicle registration.  

Since 2003 the Michigan State Police has provided criminal record data, arrests records, sexual offenders list records, driver’s license records, and motor vehicle registration records to MATRIX.  The program ties together government and commercial databases with the purpose of conducting detailed searches on particular individuals, and to search for patterns in the data.    According to the ACLU, MATRIX contains a vast array of non-criminal information on the citizens of Michigan including information that is speculative, inaccurate and possibly constitutionally protected.  

The ACLU filed the lawsuit after sending a letter sent to the Michigan State Police in May 2004 questioning its authority to participate in an interstate intelligence organization without the approval of either the state legislature or a citizen oversight body as required by law. The MSP denied that they were required to ensure that safeguards were in place before sharing the information.

“What’s particularly troubling about MATRIX is that vast amounts of information are being compiled about law-abiding citizens,” said ACLU attorney Noel Saleh. “With a few strokes on the keyboard, any one who drives or owns a car who has never done anything wrong or someone who’s been arrested for a minor offense may find themselves in the middle of a government investigation.”

Seisint Inc., a private, profit-making company in Florida which operates MATRIX, has refused to disclose details of the program, according to news reports.  It remains unclear what data will be compiled, who else may have access to it, or what standards would trigger the creation of a dossier on an individual.

While the Michigan State Police defends their participation in the MATRIX program because the data shared is of a "public" nature, the ACLU argues that when this data is combined with billions of other private records obtained by Seisint, the company can used the MATRIX software to instantaneously create dossiers on law-abiding citizens.

The ILEIOA, established in 1980 under Gov. Milliken, created safeguards on sharing of confidential information after it was discovered that Michigan police had compiled “red squad files” on hundreds of Michigan citizens who were involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements even though they had committed no crime.  At the time, Michigan law enforcement agencies were participating in an intelligence network similar to MATRIX for the purpose of fighting organized crime.  However, they were also using the information to spy on and collect information about citizens engaged in constitutionally protected political advocacy. 

The ACLU believes that citizens may be vulnerable to inaccurate data collection under MATRIX, much like they were used to create the “red squad” files, with even greater risks as a result of 21st century technology.  MATRIX has no citizen oversight board; it maintains records which are not relevant to a criminal investigation or within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity; it may contain information describing how an individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment; it has no procedures for reviewing files for accuracy or legality; and there is no stated policy for assuring the purging of outdated information.

The lawsuit was filed in the Wayne County Circuit Court.

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