A bill that would have shut the doors of the Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC) passed the House 88-54 last week but was struck down by the Senate in a 29-6 vote later that same day.
The measure, introduced by Rep. Charlotte Warren (D-Hallowell), would defund the controversial center over a period of two years, eventually leading to its closure.
Earlier this year, Gov. Janet Mills’ public safety commissioner, Michael Sauschuck, spoke out against LD 1278 during a public hearing on the bill. Sauschuck said the MIAC is a necessary agency because domestic terrorism remains a real threat, and that without it, Maine would be less safe.
The MIAC and centers like it around the country were created after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. Through one governor’s executive order, the so-called “fusion center” was launched in 2006 and has remained operational since.
The center has faced harsh criticism in recent years, and rightfully so, after a widespread hacking of US information agencies leaked records held by the center revealing how the unit tracks actions protected by the First Amendment.
As Warren put it, “If you’re a data collection organization and you can’t protect your data, I think you’re probably not worth Maine taxpayers’ money.”
Not only that, but a whistleblower within the organization came out and filed legal action against the program claiming a violation of Mainers’ civil rights.
Just last year, State Police Trooper George Loder, 51, of Scarborough, filed suit against the MIAC for demoting him after he told his superiors the center was illegally collecting and managing Mainers’ private data.
The suit alleged the information center illegally captured information via social media about Mainers who legally protested against Central Maine Power in 2018. The suit also noted the center stored in a database information from firearm purchase applications that was supposed to be destroyed.
Loder also alleges the organization stored information obtained from license plate scanners in Portland from vehicles traveling to New York City and other supposedly drug sourcing cities in Massachusetts, for longer than the 21 days allowed under state law.
In a 2020 statement, Zachary Heiden, legal director of the Maine American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), lambasted the organization’s lack of oversight and transparency and called for the center to operate more in the public eye. “Mainers have a right to know whether their tax dollars are supporting illegal government surveillance,” he said.
Opponents of the bill claim the center is critical to law enforcement operations and its passage would essentially be a form of “defunding the police.” Even so, if the armed wing of the government is illegally monitoring private citizens, it should be defunded.
This so-called “fusion center” exists to collect, analyze and distribute information about citizens across federal, state and local government agencies, and has done so in an opaque way with minimal reporting on its activities under the guise of anti-terrorism efforts.
Neither the state nor federal governments have the right to impede upon the privacy of law-abiding citizens, who are allegedly the ones being targeted by the agency’s activities.
Such an organization existing unchecked and behind closed doors poses a grave threat to Mainers’ privacy, individual liberty and civil rights. Even if the allegations in Loder’s claim are not true, the fact that we can’t easily know is reason enough for further investigation and scrutiny of the center’s activities.
Lawmakers may have decided that closure of the facility is not right at this time, however a full accounting and scrutinization of the center’s operations has only just begun.