Lt. Michael Johnston explains the role of the Maine Information Analysis Center during a tour of the offices in Augusta on July 30, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

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John Andrews of Paris, a Libertarian, represents District 73 in the Maine House of Representatives. Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland, a Democrat, is the Assistant Majority Leader in the Maine House.

Maine politics are sharply polarized. But that wasn’t the case recently in Augusta. On April 12, Republicans, Libertarians, independents and Democrats joined forces against Big Brother.

They testified in support of a bill to shut down Maine’s Fusion Center, also known as the Maine Information and Analysis Center or MIAC. This institution combines Big Brother with 21st century technologies that make Orwell’s dystopia look quaint.

Fusion centers were originally created for counterterrorism but, over the years, have earned a reputation for ineffectiveness, incompetence and civil liberties violations. Fusion center flaws are well documented by nonpartisan government auditors and the U.S. Senate. In 2007, the ACLU demanded serious reforms. Conservatives went even further. The Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute recommended closing fusion centers or collapsing their functions into a similar, older program run by the FBI.

Fusion center reports are often called “intelligence spam.” Experts warn that they are the “nerve centers” of mass criminalization. And that’s why we agree that it’s time to eliminate this dangerous, failed program.

In 2015, legislators unsuccessfully tried to regulate the MIAC. In May 2020, a Maine State Police whistleblower charged that the MIAC maintains a gun owner database and spies on political activists. In June, hacked documents showed that the MIAC’s major “intelligence” reports are rumor mongering about Black Lives Matter activists, monitoring the Central Maine Power transmission line opposition protests, and sharing stigmatizing information about Mainers struggling with substance use disorder.

We testified in support of LD 1278: An Act to Close the Maine Information and Analysis Center and were joined by Independent Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, Democratic Rep. Charlotte Warren and Republican Sen. Rick Bennett. We share Bennett’s outrage with MIAC leadership which “believes itself immune from justification, public scrutiny, and legislative oversight.” We agree with his warning that “If we cannot hold such a government agency accountable, God help our republic.”

We were joined by a diverse group of Mainers: service providers and professionals working every day on the frontlines of mental health and treatment, an environmentalist monitored by the MIAC for opposing the CMP corridor, another activist targeted by the MIAC for opposing mask mandates, and professors from Colby and the University of Southern Maine. The combined message from these Mainers to lawmakers was clear: Defend our rights, stop the surveillance and close the MIAC.

In response, Big Brother called on his salaried staff: the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, the MIAC director, the governor’s homeland security advisor and other payrolled law enforcement, including federal officials from Border Patrol. They played up the fear of crime and terrorism to beat back our attempt to rein in out-of-control police surveillance.

We believe that we could close the MIAC with no negative impact on public safety because every area of the MIAC’s mission is already served by programs that pre-date Maine’s fusion center. Counterterrorism? The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Boston has that covered — and includes participation from Maine law enforcement. Serious drug trafficking? The New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program runs its own intelligence center that serves Maine. Routine police intelligence sharing? The New England State Police Information Network has linked law enforcement in the region for decades.

We believe the real motivations behind MIAC supporters are power and bureaucratic politics. The Maine State Police do not want to give up their spy center and the cachet that comes with it. Similarly, corporate interests want to defend their market. Mike Sena, director of the National Fusion Center Association, the lobbying arm of the fusion center network, defended the MIAC. The NFCA is a proxy for the corporations that peddle surveillance technology to fusion centers. It is sponsored by 17 security corporations, including Clareview AI, which is currently being sued for building a 3 billion image facial recognition database by illegally “scraping” photos from social media.

A bipartisan group of Mainers united to defend our basic constitutionally protected rights is up against Big Brother’s bureaucrats and corporate lobbyists. We are proud to stand together with Maine people and call on all our colleagues, regardless of party affiliation, to join us in this critical fight to preserve our rights and freedoms.