No. 251, Nov. 6-12, 2003



To read an article, click on the headline.

What is the MATRIX?
A new state-run
surveillance program

Gene Robinson:
Anglican Church’s first
openly gay Bishop



What is the MATRIX?
A new state-run surveillance program

New York, New York, Oct. 30— The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed simultaneous state Freedom of Information Act requests in Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania on Oct. 30 about those states’ participation in the new MATRIX database surveillance system. It also released an Issue Brief explaining the problems with the program, which also operates in Florida and Utah.

“Congress killed the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness data mining program, but now the federal government is trying to build up a state-run equivalent,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program.

“In essence, the government is replacing an unpopular Big Brother initiative with a lot of Little Brothers,” he added, noting that the program is receiving $12 million from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. “What does it take for the message to get through that government spying on the activities of innocent Americans will not be tolerated?”

The ACLU’s requests, which were filed under individual states’ open-records laws, come on the heels of a federal Freedom of Information Act request it filed Oct. 17. A similar request was also filed in Florida, where the program originated. The goal of the requests is to find out what information sources the system is drawing on – information program officials have refused to disclose – as well as who has access to the database and how it is being used.

According to Congressional testimony and news reports, The MATRIX (Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange) creates dossiers about individuals from government databases and private-sector information companies that compile files on Americans’ activities for profit. It then makes those dossiers available for search by federal and state law enforcement officers. In addition, MATRIX workers comb through the millions of files in a search for “anomalies” that may be indicative of terrorist or other criminal activity.

While company officials have refused to disclose details of the program, according to news reports the kind of information to be searched includes credit histories, driver’s license photographs, marriage and divorce records, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and the names and addresses of family members, neighbors, and business associates.

Raising even more issues, the MATRIX is operated by a private company, Seisint Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida. Ironically, the company’s founder was forced to resign after information about his own past came to light: according to Florida police, he was formerly a drug smuggler who had piloted multiple planeloads of cocaine from Colombia to the US.

“Members of Congress who voted to close down TIA in the belief that they were ending this kind of data mining surveillance must demand more information about the MATRIX,” said Steinhardt. “And then they should shut it down too.”

Source: ACLU

Gene Robinson: Anglican Church’s
first openly gay Bishop

By Andrew Buncombe

Durham, New Hampshire, Nov. 3— The Reverend Gene Robinson was consecrated as the Anglican church’s first openly gay Bishop at a ceremony at the University of New Hampshire on Sunday, Nov. 2 with over 4,000 people in attendance.

But surely the 56-year-old divorced father could not have anticipated the words of Father Earle Fox, a retired priest from Pittsburgh, who intervened dramatically during the consecration service in Durham, New Hampshire, after the head of the US Episcopalian Church asked if there were objections.

“Whatever else homosexuality is, it is a behavior. It would thus be reasonable to inquire into the nature of such behavior for which approval is sought,” Fox told the congregation of several thousand, including more than two dozen Bishops. “For males, about 99 per cent engage in oral sex, 91 per cent engage in anal sex, 82 per cent engage in rimming, touching of the anus of one partner.” Before Fox could get any further, he was cut of by the US primate, the Most Reverend Frank Griswold, and asked to get to the substance of the objection.

A copy of Fox’s entire speech, obtained afterwards by The Independent, suggests that the retired priest was trying to shock people and further widen the schism of the already divided Anglican worldwide community. “It was supposed to shock people,” Fox said afterwards. “Our side are too embarrassed to talk about it, the others don’t dare mention it.”

In New Hampshire ­- where Robinson was selected as the Bishop-elect earlier this year - there has been a weight of opinion in support of a man generally considered dignified, friendly, and someone more than able to provide leadership to the church as it faces new challenges.

“Pretty soon, it is going to be time for us to get over all of this pain and difficulty and get on with the gospel,” Robinson, now the Bishop of New Hampshire, said in a recent interview with The Independent. “That is what God would have us do and that is what we need to do here in the diocese of New Hampshire.”

In the well-heeled university city of Durham ­ which hosted yesterday’s event - most people seemed to believe that with who Robinson shared his bed was a matter for him.

Local parishioners and members of the clergy had shown their support for Robinson by donating gold jewelry that was melted down and forged into a cross for him to wear during the consecration service.

Some divorced parishioners sent wedding rings. One woman, Judith Esmay, sent a pin to “right a wrong” she committed nearly 50 years ago when, as the president of her student association, she failed to support the membership of a black student. “It’s been lingering inside of me that I should have done more,” she said. “Being part of Robinson’s election makes me feel that somehow I have paid back. This has given me a second chance to stand my ground and say ‘This is right.’”

But in the wider Anglican community or communion, most particularly in Africa and Asia, the fact that Robinson’s partner is a man - Mark Andrew, a local health official - is something that has created a controversy marked at the extremes by venom and hatred. The Primate of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, described homosexuality as a “satanic aberration unknown even in animal relations.”

Robinson has had to take the objections to his consecration seriously. Among the e-mails and messages he had received were death threats. In recent weeks he had traveled with bodyguards and the organizers of his consecration had arranged for him to arrive in secret, out of sight.

“We just wanted to elect a Bishop. We did not expect to be at the center of a controversy,” said Ruth Fox, a member of the committee that had overseen the selection process.

Source: Independent (UK)