For years I thought that the phrase, “I’ll be watching you” was the chorus to a popular 1980’s song sung by the Police. I guess it could very easily now be confused with a statement sung by real police if a new lawsuit has any merit.

A recent lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by a Maine State Trooper details allegations that a specialized unit within the State Police has been illegally spying on and keeping records on Maine residents for years. If true this information should send shivers down the spine of every Mainer because of the type of information held by the State Police and the ramifications of how that information could be used against residents who had not committed any crime.

The unit, the Maine Intelligence Analysis Center (MIAC), was stood up in 2006 by an executive order to better allow the State Police and local police departments to work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. The information that was gathered on ongoing criminal activity by the various agencies could be used to thwart future acts of terrorism or crimes. According to various politicians and people with knowledge of the center, there was nearly zero outside oversight of what the center was doing in the past 14 years.

The lawsuit has alleged that there were several areas where the center was illegally using information on people or organizations that were not committing a crime. In some cases the storing of that information allegedly violated either State law or Federal law. Either way, there may be thousands, even tens of thousands of people. who have unwittingly had their names, addresses, social security numbers and more held by an agency that does not have the authority to do so.

It is alleged that the center conducted surveillance of protests to gather information. One such protest that was named where information gathering had taken place was a protest of the CMP corridor that is currently proposed. Imagine being put on a list simply for exercising your right to assemble. Anyone in Maine who has ever attended a rally, or waived a sign, or protested an idea may be catalogued somewhere. This could have a chilling effect of people making their voice heard.

Not to be out done though the center is alleged to have spied on people using their social media and political activity. The most notable case was for the counselors and staff members at the Seeds of Peace camp in Otisfield. This camp brings together youngsters from all over the Middle East to learn how to live together. Were they or the counselors really a threat?

Surely, if the situation as alleged in the suit is correct, the State Police were looking to stop an intifada in the lakes region but I don’t recall hearing about too many hard core terrorists out in that part of the state.

The suit also alleges that MIAC worked with other states to circumvent Maine law. It has been reported that law enforcement in Maine is forbidden from using technological means to read and identify license plates, let alone store that information. Allegedly the State Police have worked with other New England states to acquire their databases for license that plates that routinely enter their states.

This means that if you live near the Maine border and make a run a couple of times a month to the Portsmouth traffic circle to get your favorite bottle of spirits, you may have been identified and logged. Likewise, if you commute to Boston as part of your job, the Massachusetts State Police may have given your information to their counterparts in Maine.

You could be part of a searchable database all for the crime of going to work or taking part in a legal leisure activity.

One of the most egregious allegations in the suit is the logging of background checks for the purchase of firearms. If you buy a firearm from a licensed dealer in Maine the buyer must submit to a background check. The check is done by the State Police.

Under Federal law, information that is gathered to determine eligibility to purchase that firearm must be destroyed after a determination about the sale is made. However, it is alleged in this lawsuit that the information has been used to create a firearms owner database.

A database, that has been brought up in the legislature nearly every term this decade and has been voted down every time by large margins.

I am generally a supporter of the police. They have a difficult job and protect us from those things that go bump in the night. That being said, it cannot be stated enough that this sort of behavior alleged in the lawsuit is not appropriate. Especially since there are rules or laws that do not allow many of the things that the suit claims happens.

I hope that, after a careful examination, there is no fire that comes out of this smoke. If there is I hope that heads will roll and the appropriate level of oversight finally becomes a reality for this little unit.

Jonathan Crimmins can be reached by email at [email protected]

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