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The Maine State Police May Be Illegally Spying on Mainers

Posted by Ian M. L'Heureux | May 14, 2020 | 0 Comments

The Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News reported today on a federal lawsuit filed against Maine state Police Colonel John Cote, two State Police Supervisors, and the Maine Intelligence Analysis Center (MIAC) earlier this month.

 The lawsuit was filed by George Loder, a Maine State Trooper who used to serve on the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), an organization designed to share information between state agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

 Loder accuses his former supervisors of removing him from duty on the JTTF for raising his concerns that the MIAC, also referred to as the “fusion center,” was regularly violating federal privacy laws and the Constitution in order to spy on Mainers.

 Amongst the most disturbing of the accusations levied by the lawsuit was one supervisor, Sgt. Michael Johnston, attempting to coerce Loder into leaking sensitive information germane to federal investigations; intelligence gathering on behalf of Central Maine Power; and the retention of citizens' personal information, including information gleaned from vehicle license plates and NICS background checks.

NICS background checks are conducted by the Maine State Police on behalf of the FBI in under the authority of the federal Brady Act. The checks are conducted when a citizen purchases a firearm from a Federal Firearm License holder. It is unlawful to retain the private information submitted for these checks after the check is complete. Loder's Complaint alleges that MIAC retained the information anyway.

 Put another way, the Maine State Police is possibly in possession of a secret list of law-abiding gun owners.

 Loder's Complaint also alleges that the MIAC collected intelligence on individuals conducting legal and peaceful protests against Central Maine Power in 2018. The MIAC then relayed the information about these individuals to Central Maine Power.

 Central Maine Power's head of security serves on the committee responsible for oversight of the MIAC. So does Sgt. Michael Johnston. So does Col. John Cote.

 If Loder's complaint is true and accurate, then there is a secret splinter group operating inside of the Maine State Police that has been spying on Mainers without any real regulation or oversight since its genesis in 2006. The MIAC has potentially violated the due process and privacy rights of an untold number of Mainers.

 If you legally purchased a firearm, attended a protest, have been pulled over by a Trooper, or even so much as casually drove past an MDEA agent since 2006, your name and personal information could be on a list in the hands of the State Police.

 The immediate question that comes to mind is, of course, how does someone find out if they are on that list?  Typically, the easiest tool for a citizen looking to obtain information from the State is to submit a Freedom of Access Act Request. The government can, however, object to such a request and refuse to comply by claiming that the information being sought is confidential.

 A citizen submitting a FOAA request to the Maine State Police in this situation is more likely than not going to encounter a refusal from the Maine State Police. The statutory most frequently (and robotically) cited by law enforcement when denying a FOAA request is Title 16 Section 804 which is titled “Limitation on Dissemination of Intelligence and Investigative Record Information.”

 Personally, I do not think they should get to hide behind that while breaking the law. A citizen wishing to appeal the refusal of a FOAA request can do so by filing an appeal with the Superior Court within 30 calendar days of receiving the refusal.

 A citizen seeking to peel the lid off the MIAC is certainly in for an uphill battle. More likely than not, a citizen may need to resort to a federal suit of his or her own in order to assert individual rights.

About the Author

Ian M. L'Heureux

Ian L'Heureux is originally from Sanford, Maine and graduated from Norwich University, The Military College of Vermont, in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Afterwards, he worked for a year as a Juvenile Program Worker at Long Creek Youth Development Center before entering the Un...

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