AUGUSTA –– A state lawmaker has submitted a proposal to ensure oversight of a secretive agency that’s expected to play a key role in the state’s crackdown on drug trafficking.

Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, said that the bill is designed to protect Mainers’ right to privacy. Her bill follows a Portland Press Herald report that found that there is little or no oversight of the Maine Information and Analysis Center, or MIAC, and its budget . The report also found that an advisory board created to oversee the MIAC’s surveillance activities has not met for several years.

In August, the LePage administration announced that the MIAC will be used in the state’s effort to disrupt the drug trade. The MIAC is of approximately 80 so-called fusion centers created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to increase collaboration and intelligence gathering among all levels of law enforcement.

Fusion centers have been a source of controversy. The agencies received at least $461 million in federal funding last year and an estimated $1.4 billion through 2012, according to federal grant data. They have been widely criticized for violating Americans’ right to privacy and drafting intelligence reports on peace activists, political groups and, in one case, a California motorcycle gang’s distribution of a leaflet urging members to have a designated driver and cooperate if stopped by police.

U.S. Senate investigators and the Government Accounting Office have both issued critical reports about fusion centers, raising questions about the scope of their activities and whether the public’s money was being well spent.

The MIAC’s activities in Maine are largely covert. The agency is overseen by Maine State Police, but its budget, the information it collects and the exact makeup of its 12-member staff are not publicly disclosed. Special Services Maj. Christopher Grotton said in an interview in September that he could not readily provide the agency’s budget, and he declined to specify which federal agencies had personnel working in the MIAC.

Grotton said the MIAC follows strict federal and state guidelines to protect Mainers’ privacy.

The center was set up to operate with input from a three-member advisory board that includes Daniel Wathen, a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Wathen told the Press Herald that years have passed since the board met and tried to evaluate the center’s activities.

“It was rather hard to get your hands around what they were actually doing,” Wathen recalled.

Warren, in a press statement, said that her proposal will empower the advisory board “to balance the enforcement goals with the rights of people they are investigating.”

“We all want to stop drug addiction and at the same time, be mindful of privacy rights of the Maine people,” Warren said. “I had never heard of MIAC, or the ‘fusion center’ as it’s called. In doing some research, I found little or no information on the group’s authority and oversight.”

Warren’s proposal must first clear the Legislative Council, which is set to meet Thursday to vote on roughly 400 bills for the upcoming legislative session. An affirmative vote means that Warren’s bill will become a bill next session. If the council declines to advance her proposal, she will have a chance to appeal in November.

Warren is a member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety and Judiciary Committees.

Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @stevemistler

 


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