State sold Ohioans’ driving records to Florida database

The ACLU rightly objects to this as a right to privacy issue, but was strangely silent when Bob Taft raised the spectre of making law-abiding CHL-holders subject to media scrutiny.

March 14, 2004
Columbus Dispatch
Story edited for space - click here to read the entire story.

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles has sold Ohioans’ driving records to a Florida company that is building a federal law-enforcement database, The Dispatch has learned.

The American Civil Liberties Union condemned the practice on privacy grounds.

Ohio sold personal information last year, including moving-violation reports, to Seisint Inc., a Boca Raton company that has an exclusive contract to create a database for detecting criminal and terrorist activity, state officials confirmed.

Seisint’s founder quit its board of directors in August after he admitted smuggling cocaine as a pilot in the early 1980s.

Click on the "Read More..." link below for more.

The so-called MATRIX database offers law-enforcement officials access to one high-speed database that looks for patterns or suspicious traits. The system gathers billions of commercial and public records into one network, allowing searches that once took weeks to be finished in seconds.

Former Attorney General Betty D. Montgomery entered into an agreement to join MATRIX in March 2002 with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Seisint said it was using the BMV information for "investigative purposes, collections, law enforcement, legal-profession searches and insurance," according to state records.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, the federal Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department allocated $12 million to create MATRIX, short for Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange.

At one point, 18 states expressed interest in joining. Since then, cost and privacy concerns have prompted 13 states to reconsider.

New York and Wisconsin dropped out on Thursday.

Gov. Bob Taft is reviewing to what extent Ohio should be involved. The others still interested are Connecticut, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

"We are reviewing various legal issues and also long-term cost implications," said Taft spokesman Orest Holubec.

Ohio has until the summer to decide if it is formally joining the program. Attorney General Jim Petro likes the program and plans to share databases with MATRIX even if the governor decides not to continue sharing BMV records.

"It’s remarkable," Petro said. "It has a great deal of potential."

Civil libertarians say the system endangers privacy as it cross-checks criminal databases with personal records.

The records include properties, driver’s licenses, vehicle and boat registrations, voter lists, Internet domain names that people own, address histories, utility connections, bankruptcies, liens and business filings.

"Accuracy on this seems to be poor at best," said Carrie Davis, an attorney with the ACLU of Ohio. "We have no idea what these records are."

The ACLU has filed a number of public-records requests in Ohio and other states to get more details.

Related Stories:
What is the MATRIX? A privacy advocate's worst nightmare

Asked and Answered. Tracking the Taft "invasion of privacy" conspiracy

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