Are State Police Spying On You?

February 11, 2020

Here’s the latest on L.D. 1899 “An Act to Amend Certain Motor Vehicle Laws.” Thank you Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, and Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell for your push for transparency.

PPH reports “Lawmakers seek to change law that lets police conceal use of high-tech surveillance”

“Two Democrats push for transparency after the Maine Sunday Telegram reports that Maine State Police will neither confirm nor deny the use facial recognition scans and other tools.

Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, and Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, who co-chairs the Legislature’s criminal justice committee, said they are working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine on a bill that would require more transparency for surveillance technologies being deployed by law enforcement.

“The public has a right to know if and how invasive surveillance technology like facial scanning is being used to spy on everyday Mainers,” said Bellows, a former executive director of the ACLU of Maine.

It’s not clear how quickly the Legislature will consider the new proposal. To advance in the session that is already underway, the bill would need special approval from the Legislative Council, a bipartisan panel that includes the 10 members of the legislative leadership. If it is not allowed, it would have to wait until the start of the next session in January 2021.

“It’s unclear if legislative leadership will permit the bill to be introduced at this late date, but we heard widespread constituent concern when news hit that Maine is one of only two states that allows this level of secret surveillance,” Bellows said.

Warren said she would like to see the bill referred to the criminal justice committee, saying that an emergency measure is needed to protect people’s privacy.

While it’s not clear whether a majority of Maine’s legislative leadership will allow the bill to be introduced immediately, House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, may support the introduction of an emergency bill.” Read more HERE.

February 9, 2020

Portland Press Herald reports “Maine State Police may be spying on you. Privacy advocates worry that law enforcement monitors innocent residents, and Maine is one of only two states that won’t reveal whether it’s using this advanced technology.”

“Maine State Police may be using powerful new technologies to scan your face and intercept your cellphone signals, but officials say an unusual provision in state law means police don’t have to tell the public.

Government use of such technologies to investigate crimes or monitor citizens is a growing source of concern around the country and the world. And Maine’s secrecy is raising alarms among privacy advocates

“It means the public doesn’t even know what it doesn’t know,” said Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s speech, privacy and technology project. “It has no idea whether there is a potential question about whether there’s unconstitutional use of a surveillance technology.”

An investigation by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram has found:

• Maine is one of two states to have a specific law, which was inspired by Cold War-era secrets kept from the Soviets, that officials say allows the state to neither confirm nor deny the use of digital technologies that might help solve crimes, but that also raises fears of abuse, privacy violations and the surveillance of citizens.

• Despite evidence that the Maine State Police has worked for years with federal agencies to develop its use of digital surveillance technology, the agency now uses that law to refuse to answer any questions about such efforts, or even acknowledge that they exist.

• The secrecy about investigative or surveillance technology extends to the Maine Information and Analysis Center – a so-called fusion center that brings the state police together with other federal and state agencies to foster information sharing and does not reveal its activities.

• The state police, and its partners in the fusion center, may soon have access to Mainers’ Real ID photos, which are especially suited for face-scanning technology. State law currently prohibits use of license photos for facial recognition searches, but a bill now moving through the Legislature would allow state officials to conduct such searches and provide information to outside law enforcement agencies.” (Legislators are on board with this?  Who sponsored this bill?)

“The lack of disclosure prevents public oversight to ensure that people’s privacy and constitutional rights are being respected.”

“Brendan McQuade, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Southern Maine who has written a book about secretive fusion centers, said the government has the ability to gather vast amounts of information using a variety of technology, including software to monitor social media, E-ZPasses used to pay highway tolls, and automated license plate readers, among others.

“The fact that we don’t know what agencies have what technology, I think, should be very troubling,” McQuade said. “They’re bought in secret. They’re used in secret. And unless there’s concerted political action and legislative actions, there’s nothing preventing police departments from doing very aggressive, warrantless surveillance.”

“PPH requested a range of public documents relating to facial recognition technology and cell site simulators from the Maine State Police under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. The documents included any requests for proposals, contracts, payments, policies governing usage, evaluations of the technology and communications about the use of such technology.

Christopher Parr, staff attorney for the Maine State Police, issued formal denials to both requests, citing a provision of Maine law enacted in 2013 that appears to be unique in the United States.

“Answering your inquiry would require us to confirm the existence or nonexistence of records and information relating to the type of technology that is the subject of your email,” Parr said in November. “As a matter of law, we are unable to confirm the existence or nonexistence of such records and information.”

“Sigmund Schutz, an attorney for the Press Herald and Telegram, is challenging that interpretation and asking the state to reconsider its denial. He noted that the request does not pertain to a specific investigation or person, nor does it pertain to a type of technology that is unknown to the public.”

“Wessler, the ACLU staff attorney, says Maine is one of only two states to give law enforcement the ability in state statute to neither confirm nor deny a broad range of public records relating to investigatory methods and technologies.

The state police interpretation of the statute highlights what may be an unintended consequence of a 2013 rewrite of state laws pertaining to criminal history records and intelligence and investigative materials.”

Marc Malon, the legislative and press liaison for the Maine Attorney General’s Office, did not respond to requests to speak to any other officials in the AG’s office and whether state police were interpreting the law correctly.

Representatives of Gov. Janet Mills, who was the attorney general in 2013, did not respond to interview requests. And Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck requested that questions be submitted in writing and has yet to respond to questions sent on Jan. 22.”

(Relative to the Commissioner, Dept. of Public Safety – When A.G. William Schneider brushed a RICO complaint under the rug, John Morris, prior Comm. Dept. of Public Safety was contacted. Pursuant to 25 MRS, Chap. 351: Department of Public Safety §2908. Police officers; powers and duties; cooperation, the Commissioner of Public Safety may expand the duties and powers of police officers beyond the duties and powers enumerated in this section to investigate, prosecute, serve process on and arrest violators of any law of this State. After receipt of Comm. Morris’ letter, the law was changed.  It is no surprise that Commissioner Sauschuck has not yet responded. The “strings” all connect.)

““Police departments have a lot of power and we expect them to use that power responsibly to protect us,” Wessler said. “But American history is replete with examples of abuses by police and that’s why there needs to be strong oversight and transparency into their practices.”

“Despite the secrecy, there is evidence Maine may be using some of this technology.”

“As a matter of law, we are unable to confirm the existence or nonexistence of records or information responsive to the request. See 16 M.R.S.A. § 807,” Parr wrote.”

“Knowing whether state police are using facial recognition could become more important this year.

Maine is in the midst of rolling out new driver’s licenses and state identification cards that are compliant with the federal Real ID program – a move that could greatly expand the number of photos that can be searched using facial recognition.”

“A bill submitted by the Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, would allow the bureau’s investigators to conduct searches of its Real ID database for outside agencies.”

“The bill, L.D. 1899, “An Act to Amend Certain Motor Vehicle Laws,” received a public hearing on Jan. 23 before the Legislature’s Committee on Transportation. Michael Kebede, policy counsel for the ACLU of Maine, spoke in opposition to the bill as drafted. He asked the committee to consider an amendment that would restrict facial recognition searches only to emergency situations where there is an imminent threat to life. During a Feb. 6 work session, the Transportation Committee amended the bill to include the ACLU of Maine’s amendment, as well as requiring the BMV to draft “major substantive rules for other authorized uses of facial recognition technology.”

(Sponsors and Co-sponsors of this bill  )

(COMMITTEE INFO – Feb 6, 2020 Work Session Held. Feb 6, 2020 Voted OTP-AM)

(Amendments to LD 1899 – No amendments found.)

“FUSION CENTER – Maine State Police oversee operations at the Maine Information and Analysis Center. The center’s 12-member staff includes federal, state and local officials, among them representatives of the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the BMV, which is building a database that could be searched with facial recognition technologies through the Real ID program.

Its activities are overseen by a 12-member advisory board. It includes one civilian and a private attorney, while the other 10 members include four members from the Maine State Police, Attorney General Aaron Frey, Douglas Farnham, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, and a representative from Central Maine Power Co. Maine State Police Lt. Michael Johnston, the fusion center’s director, said that a CMP representative is on the board because part of the center’s mission is to protect critical infrastructure, including utilities.”It does not reveal what types of technologies are used at the center, but it does lay out the ground rules for acquiring, storing and retaining information.

The center’s privacy policy does not reveal what types of technologies are used at the center, but it does lay out the ground rules for acquiring, storing and retaining information.T he policy states that the center may only seek, acquire and retain information that relates to a possible threat or criminal predicate, based on reasonable suspicion and that comes from a reliable source, among other requirements. However, it also states that the center “may retain information that is based on a level of suspicion that is less than ‘reasonable suspicion,’ such as tips and leads or a suspicious activity report.”

(Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC) was created on December 8, 2006 by the Governor’s Executive Order.


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Published in: on February 9, 2020 at 4:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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