Maine Voices: Questions about Maine’s secretive police agency still unanswered | #emailsecurity | #phishing | #ransomware

On May 7, 2020, George Loder, a now-retired Maine state trooper, filed a whistleblower complaint about the Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC), a secretive “fusion center” recognized and partially funded by the Department of Homeland Security but managed by the Maine State Police. The MIAC’s mission is to share information across all levels of government and with the private sector.

Loder alleged that the MIAC: (1) maintains an illegal database of gun owners; (2) accesses license plate reader data from other states, circumventing Maine law limiting the retention of this data; (3) monitored opponents of CMP’s now-defeated transmission line project and handed the intelligence over to the distrusted corporate utility; and (4) gathered information on counselors and volunteers for the group Seeds of Peace, a camp for young people from international conflict areas which promotes peace-building skills.

A month later, Distributed Denial of Secrets, a transparency collective, published BlueLeaks, a 269-gigabyte hack of police data that included 5 gigabytes of MIAC data. The disclosure increased the scrutiny on Maine’s controversial spy center. Subsequent reporting and research showed that the MIAC focused mostly on minor crimes and produced shoddy intelligence with a clear political bias on the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. However, the hacks compromised only the MIAC’s website and email system and did not touch its internal information systems. BlueLeaks cannot confirm or refute Loder’s allegations concerning illegal data retention, though it does provide some evidence of intelligence gathering on CMP opponents.

In the intervening two years, the case has worked its way through the courts. The results have been underwhelming. In March 2021, the U.S. District Court for Maine dismissed four of the six claims in Loder’s complaint on a technicality and without addressing the substance of the suit. As a result, the court did not investigate the allegations of illegal spying. The case may still go to trial, but the only issue still under consideration is wrongful termination. It is possible the substantive claims regarding surveillance could be relitigated in an appeal, but this is not assured and would likely take years.

The whistleblower complaint and BlueLeaks led legislators to propose two bills related to the MIAC in the summer of 2021. A bill to shut down the spy center passed the House but failed in the Senate in 2021. A rival bill requiring the state police to submit a report to the state Legislature became law. When the Department of Public Safety submitted its report in April, legislators were underwhelmed with the terse and uninformative summary they received. This outcome was predictable and we prepared for it

Starting in October 2021, a small group–a University of Southern Maine professor, a Maine law student, a social worker, a public interest technologist, and a monitoring, evaluation and learning professional – began to prepare a shadow report to contextualize and challenge the perfunctory report we anticipated the state police would submit to the Legislature.

We reviewed the BlueLeaks documents, wrote open records requests, and studied the MIAC’s past privacy audits. We found systematic problems with the MIAC’s oversight mechanism – intelligence reports and technologies that violate the MIAC’s privacy policy. We found an intense focus on minor property and drug crimes. We raised concerns about the MIAC’s impact on vulnerable populations. We released The MIAC Shadow Report on April 1 to counter the state police report.

We encourage Mainers to consider the two contrasting reports on this important issue. To us, our thoroughly-researched and far-reaching 57-page study and the state’s terse 5-page summary set the issue in dramatic relief. Neither the courts nor the state Legislature have brought meaningful accountability and the issues remain. It is time to investigate and shut down the MIAC.

— Special to the Telegram

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