Responding to a breach of the Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC) database that released the private information of Mainers as well as evidence of the secret police unit’s monitoring of recent racial justice protests, lawmakers and activists said it’s time to shut it down.
Last week, Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck, who oversees MIAC, came before members of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to answer questions about the secretive police intelligence agency, also referred to as a “fusion center.”
“I think we certainly need to have another hearing and have more questions answered,” state Sen. Shenna Bellows (D-Manchester) told Beacon late last week. As former director of the Maine ACLU, Bellows opposed the creation of MIAC in 2006 in the wake of 9/11.
“The documents that were released indicate that the fusion center is spending seemingly a substantial amount of time engaged in gathering information on law-abiding Mainers,” she said. “Law enforcement shouldn’t be wasting time spying on the citizenry engaged in First Amendment-protected activity.”
On Friday, Beacon reported on a leak of hundreds of gigabytes of documents and data from more than 200 police departments and state law enforcement fusion centers, which were created to share intelligence between the federal government and states.
The documents, the authenticity of which were confirmed last Monday by computer security blogger Brian Krebs, includes information hosted on MIAC’s website such as “requests for information” filed by law enforcement agencies through a web form.
Other leaked fusion center files included “criminal incident reports” and “suspicious activity reports” filed by local law enforcement agencies that also included individuals’ sensitive information.
“They’re building cases against people who haven’t committed any crime,” said Criminal Justice Committee co-chair Rep. Charlotte Warren (D-Hallowell).
Warren said she was upset that personal information contained in the agency’s reports has been made public.
“When I look at all those pictures of folks who are struggling with substance use disorder — it’s a bunch of folks that we should be using that money to help them, not to share their information,” she said.
State Rep. Victoria Morales (D-South Portland), another member of the Criminal Justice Committee, also thought MIAC’s nearly $800,000 annual budget could be better spent on other critical needs.
“I always go to a housing frame. With the $800,000 MIAC state budget, we could provide housing for a year for 80 households in Maine,” Morales said.
Bellows also said that the MIAC breach was predictable. “It’s never a question of if a centralized database is going to be breached, but when and to what consequence,” she said.
‘Now to defund the police, in rural Maine and everywhere’
A set of PDFs also revealed in the data breach titled “CIVIL UNREST DAILY REPORT” showed that MIAC was closely tracking Black Lives Matter events and other racial justice activism earlier this month, as well as opposition to the CMP corridor.
“I’m not surprised that the police are responding with textbook tactics of treating citizens like a threat. We are a threat to their authority, but they are a threat to our lives — especially the lives of brown and Black neighbors,” said Rocky Coastlines, an organizer of a June 5 demonstration in Wiscasset.
The demonstration in Wiscasset was among twenty events listed by MIAC for the weekend of June 5, 6 and 7 that were closely being monitored, with information on locations, sponsors and likely attendance.
“Police departments all over this nation are experiencing the power of Black-led and Black-centered anti-racist organizing,” Coastlines said. “As we stand on the shoulders of Black feminist abolitionist leaders and respond to the demands of the Movement for Black Lives and Black Lives Matter, primarily white communities of rural Maine are saying, ‘Rural places are not separate from this system. We are inextricably connected, and the time is now to defund the police, in rural Maine and everywhere.’”
Another June 5 demonstration was being monitored in Biddeford.
“We all feel that to be using all that time, energy and resources for surveillance of people and groups which have done nothing more than protest is unconscionable,” said Sandy Reinherz Katz, one of the organizers of the Biddeford rally. “We think the resources would be much better spent on building community relationships.”
“We demand the closure of MIAC and ending other forms of police surveillance, especially facial recognition software,” Coastlines said.
On Friday, the Maine State Police issued a statement saying that they were first notified of the data breach on June 20 but didn’t receive confirmation until Friday that some of their datasets had been “made public through various and unlawful means.”
MIAC had already been at the center of controversy after State Police Trooper George Loder filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit alleging that the unit “has kept an illegal database of gun owners, illegally conducted surveillance on peace activists and regularly circumvented federal privacy laws.”
“We look back at what the FBI did to Martin Luther King when they had him under surveillance through COINTELPRO,” said Bellows, referring to the FBI’s counterintelligence program which surveilled and attempted to discredit political organizations until the 1970s. “We feel disgust and repugnance at what was done to MLK. That’s exactly what the fusion center is doing to the Black Lives Matter protesters today, and it’s wrong.”
Top photo: Portland police officers watch demonstrators during a June 5 rally in the city. | Beacon