In a major step for reigning in the unaccountable power of fusion centers, the Maine state House and Senate have passed HP 947, An Act to Increase the Transparency and Accountability of the Maine Information and Analysis Center. The bill creates an Auditor position within the Office of the Attorney General whose job it is to conduct regular reviews of the Main Information and Analysis Center’s (MIAC) activities, to keep records, and to share information with the public. The bill also makes any information MIAC shares with private entities a public record and therefore accessible to the public.
This bill comes after a years-long concerted effort by Maine activists and concerned citizens who have been fighting for accountability in how MIAC collects, shares, and utilizes information about Mainers. In June 2021, a bill that would have defunded the fusion center entirely passed 88-54 out of the Maine House of Representatives before being defeated in the state senate.
Fusion centers are yet another unnecessary cog in the surveillance state—and one that serves the intrusive function of coordinating surveillance activities and sharing information between federal law enforcement, the national security surveillance apparatus, and local and state police, with little to no oversight. Across the United States, there are at least 78 fusion centers that were formed by the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of the War on Terror and the rise of post-9/11 mass surveillance. Since their creation, fusion centers have been hammered by politicians, academics, and civil society groups for their ineffectiveness, dysfunction, mission creep, and unregulated tendency to veer into policing political views. As scholar Brendan McQuade wrote in his book Pacifying the Homeland: Intelligence Fusion and Mass Supervision:
“On paper, fusion centers have the potential to organize dramatic surveillance powers. In practice however, what happens at fusion centers is circumscribed by the politics of law enforcement. The tremendous resources being invested in counterterrorism and the formation of interagency intelligence centers are complicated by organization complexity and jurisdictional rivalries. The result is not a revolutionary shift in policing but the creation of uneven, conflictive, and often dysfunctional intelligence-sharing systems.”
An explosive 2023 report from Rutgers University’s Center for Security, Race and Rights also provides more evidence of why these centers are invasive, secretive, and dangerous. In the report, researchers documented how New Jersey’s fusion center leveraged national security powers to spy almost exclusively on Muslim, Arab, and Black communities and push an already racially biased criminal justice system into overdrive through aggressive enforcement of misdemeanor and quality of life offenses.
After a series of leaks that revealed communications from within police departments, fusion centers, and law enforcement agencies across the country, MIAC came under particular scrutiny for sharing dubious intelligence generated by far-right wing social media accounts with local law enforcement. Specifically, MIAC helped perpetuate disinformation that stacks of bricks and stones had been strategically placed throughout a Black Lives Matter protest as part of a larger plan for destruction, and caused police to plan and act accordingly. This was, to put it plainly, a government intelligence agency spreading fake news that could have deliberately injured people exercising their First Amendment rights. This controversy unfolded shortly after a whistleblower lawsuit from a state trooper that alleged the fusion center routinely violated civil rights.
When it comes to fighting these dangerous relics of the War on Terror, activists in Maine are leading the way for the rest of the country. EFF will continue to support organizations and local groups willing to take on fusion centers in their legislatures. Congratulations to the hard-working activists and concerned residents in Maine.