If you’ve never heard of the Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC), you’re not alone.
Little information is publicly available regarding MIAC, a secretive agency within the Department of Public Safety, and its covert operations. Its budget is unknown. The exact location of its offices is uncertain. The nature of its activities, potentially involving domestic surveillance, is unclear. Law enforcement officials aren’t even willing to disclose which other agencies it collaborates with in its investigations. And to top it off, a three-member advisory panel meant to supervise the Center’s activities hasn’t met in years.
But that may change if Rep. Charlotte Warren (D-Hallowell), who has submitted a proposal to reestablish the advisory board, gets her way. Her aim, according to a statement she released to the press, is “to balance the enforcement goals with the rights of people they are investigating.”
A spokesperson for MIAC, which is overseen by the Maine State Police, Special Services Major Christopher Grotton, has insisted that its clandestine operations aren’t as spooky or threatening as critics allege. “We are required to have very strict privacy policies and guidelines,” he said. “I can tell you that we follow those.”
But for many, his word isn’t good enough. For years, watchdog groups and civil liberties advocates have warned that agencies like the MIAC – so-called “fusion centers,” of which there are about 80 in the United States, that were formed after 9/11to increase collaboration among all levels of law enforcement – must be carefully scrutinized to ensure that they don’t overstep their authority and infringe on private citizens’ constitutional rights. Investigators working for the U.S. Senate, as well as the Government Accounting Office and the ACLU, have voiced concerns that fusion centers mismanage their budgets (totaling at least $461 million last year) and exceed their proper investigative scope.
Rep. Warren’s bill will be evaluated by the Legislative Council – a bipartisan group of legislative leaders in Augusta – on Thursday and, if approved, may be voted on by the Legislature as early as January.