Utah's homeland security chief Verdi White II is confident that four confidential state databases have all been purged from the controversial MATRIX super computer database in Florida.

But some other public databases remain in MATRIX, and now a state oversight committee, meeting for the first time Tuesday, wants to know which state and county agencies have also provided "public" information under Utah's government records laws.

"The rumor mill continues to grow that there are more than just those four" databases in MATRIX, said Senate Majority Leader Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville. "We should check further and see if any county agencies were participating, too."

The confidential databases provided to and then purged from MATRIX include criminal history, prison files, drivers' licenses and motor vehicle records.

But MATRIX is unique in that it meshes confidential databases accessible only to law enforcement with public data accessible to anyone —things like birth and death records, marriage and divorce histories, and property transactions. The system also incorporates databases compiled by banks, insurance companies, credit bureaus and other businesses.

Gary Doxey, chief of staff to Gov. Olene Walker, told the committee the Department of Corrections has already complied with requests from MATRIX under the Government Records Access and Management Act for public information in its files beyond the confidential databases first sent in July 2003.

Doxey, the chairman of the MATRIX Review Committee, promised he would find out what other state agencies had also received GRAMA requests for public data before the committee meets again on March 16 — two weeks after the end of the legislative session.

"I am pledging the governor will not do anything without legislative approval," he said.

That is certainly a concern to Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, who cited the situation in Georgia where the governor ordered MATRIX unplugged, but law enforcement continued to download information for months afterward.

Utah's oversight committee, composed of three lawmakers, a deputy attorney general, one state agency head, a private citizen and Doxey, spent their first meeting creating a laundry list of questions they want answered in the weeks ahead.

Among the questions:

In an information age, should policymakers rethink what constitutes a "public record?"

How secure is the private information that was downloaded to MATRIX and what assurances are there the private company managing the system won't use the information for commercial purposes?

Who has access to the data and what records are kept of who used the system and why?

Should the federal government have access to the database?

How accurate is the information that is in the database, and how can corrections be made and bad information purged?

How much would it cost Utah taxpayers to participate?

Doxey, who was chief legal counsel to former Gov. Mike Leavitt, told the committee that MATRIX was an outgrowth of the post-Sept. 11 terrorism climate where states and the federal government were asking how information could be better shared to prevent terrorists acts in the future.

Because of Utah's role in inter-agency cooperation during Olympic security, Leavitt and state public safety officials became leaders in those national discussions. The National Governors Association, once chaired by Leavitt, was a major proponent of state involvement in information sharing.

"It was about how do we connect the dots better," Doxey said.

Utah was one of 13 states that agreed to participate in the MATRIX database, which is overseen by Florida law enforcement and uses technology created by a private company that mines databases across the country, compiling more than 20 billion records, according to the company's Web site.

Utah began downloading the information on July 31 and was fully integrated into the system by late August or early September.

But Leavitt spoke to lawmakers and citizens about only in vague terms and without mentioning the growing national concern among civil libertarians that MATRIX might violate constitutional rights to privacy.

Even Walker, his lieutenant governor at the time who became governor when Leavitt resigned to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency, says she didn't know about MATRIX.

"The focus has been on what Mike Leavitt knew," Waddoups said. "I want to know how much did Gov. Walker know."

The committee agreed its hardest role will be how to balance constitutionally protected rights with the realities of terrorism, all in an information world.

"Criminals have no jurisdictions or boundaries," said chief deputy attorney general Kirk Torgensen.

"There is also the constitutional question of presumption of innocence," Davis said, adding Americans have a right to be concerned if anything "erodes that presumption."


E-mail: spang@desnews.com