Maine State Senator Pinny Beebe-Center has introduced LD 1290 , or An Act to End the Maine Information and Analysis Center Program, a bill that would defund the Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC), also known as Maine’s only fusion center. EFF once again pleased to support this bill in hopes of defunding an unnecessary, intrusive, and often-harmful piece of the U.S. surveillance regime. You can read the full text of the bill here. A version of this bill managed to pass 88-54 out of the Maine House of Representatives in June 2021 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. 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 political policing. 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 gives us 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.
Moreover, in recent years, the dysfunction of fusion centers and the ease with which they sink into policing First Amendment-protected activities have been on full display. After a series of leaks that revealed communications from inside 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, the Maine fusion center 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 is in addition to a whistleblower lawsuit from a state trooper that alleged the fusion center routinely violated civil rights.
Last year, as MIAC issued a state-mandated annual report, local researchers and activists like McQuade found the official reporting inadequate, and issued their own MIAC Shadow Report. In the shadow report, activists detailed the above stories, the lack of transparency of the fusion center and its state partners, deficiencies in the self-auditing protocols, and glaring data security vulnerabilities like the planned archiving of data collected or transited through MIAC.
The first decade of the 21st century was characterized by a blank check to grow and expand the infrastructure that props up mass surveillance. Fusion centers are at the very heart of that excess. They have proven themselves to be unreliable and even harmful to the people the national security apparatus claims to want to protect. So why do states continue to fund intelligence fusion when, at best, it enacts political policing that poses an existential threat to communities, immigrants, and protestors—and at worst, it actively disseminates false information to police?
We echo the sentiments of Senator Beebe-Center and other dedicated Maine residents who say it's time to shift MIAC's nearly million-dollar per year budget towards more useful programs. Maine, pass LD 1290 and defund the Maine Information and Analysis Center.