A state agency has engaged in surveillance of lawful protests and even created a de facto “gun registry” in violation of state and federal law, according to an explosive whistleblower complaint.
The complaint from a Maine state trooper, George Loder, alleges that the Maine Information and Analysis Center retains and shares personal information about Mainers who are not suspected of criminal or terrorist activity.
Those allegations have thrust a little-known state agency into the spotlight. Former Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, created the analysis center by executive order in December 2006. It is funded, in part, through a variety of federal grants and programs, including the Justice Department’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program and the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Byrne grants.
Its mandate is to ensure information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is shared with federal, state, local and tribal agencies. The center doesn’t enforce law or conduct criminal investigations, but gathers and analyzes information that can then be shared with law enforcement agencies. What agencies it shared the information with isn’t detailed in the complaint.
Calls are mounting for an independent investigation of the complaint, with a state senator and the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine suggesting that further review of the allegations occur “sooner rather than later.”
Here are four big takeaways from the whistleblower complaint.
Spied on protesters
The lawsuit alleges that analysts at the center have conducted surveillance of people who have participated in protests. The agency will monitor social media accounts and even conduct background checks on those involved in the demonstrations.
That often has been justified under the pretext that protesters will commit a criminal offense — in some cases, littering. Even when there’s no evidence of criminal activity, the information is retained, according to the complaint.
For example, the agency allegedly monitored September 2018 protests against Central Maine Power’s proposed 145-mile transmission corridor through western Maine. A CMP executive — Bruce Lewis, the utility’s director of security — sits on the agency’s advisory board, whose directive is to “ensure that civil liberties of citizens are properly protected.”
De facto gun registry
Another big allegation contained in the complaint is that the agency assembled a de facto searchable “gun registry.”
In Maine, the state police is the designated agency to conduct background checks for firearm purchases through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Federal law requires that any information compiled during the background check must be destroyed after an approved sale.
But that has not happened, in violation of state and federal law, the trooper claims in the complaint.
Instead, the state police enter that information into the analysis center’s database, “essentially creating a registry,” according to the complaint. The information is reportedly retained “indefinitely.”
Collected information on camp staff’s political activity
The lawsuit also alleges that the agency collected information related to the social and political activity of staff at Seeds of Peace, a summer camp in Otisfield.
Since 2002, the state police have conducted background checks and sex-offender status checks for camp counselor applicants, Eric Kapanga, the director of branding and design at Seeds of Peace, told the BDN. He said any information collected beyond that was never given to the camp.
That collection activity ended in 2018, according to the document.
License plate database
The lawsuit also accuses the agency of illegally retaining license plate information of vehicles registered in Maine that travel in and out of the state.
Maine law prohibits use of an automated license plate recognition system — which uses fixed or high-speed cameras to convert plates into computer-readable data — except when based on “articulable facts of a concern for safety, wrongdoing or a criminal investigation” and that any data collected not be retained beyond 21 days.
But the agency allegedly has circumvented those restrictions through agreements with law enforcement in other states to provide data on vehicles registered in Maine that make “frequent or quick” trips to cities considered key supply points in the drug pipeline, including New York City; Hartford, Connecticut; and Lawrence, Massachusetts.
The information is mined from other agencies without “pre-existing suspicion of criminal activity,” according to the complaint.