The advisory board of the Maine State Police intelligence unit will add two new transparency and oversight measures to its twice-annual privacy audits, adding a new layer of visibility to the secretive agency’s work.

When the staff at the Maine Information and Analysis Center, the only statewide police intelligence unit, conducts its semiannual privacy audits, it will now include a description for the public of the substance of the intelligence reports it evaluates.

While the audit already uses a randomized strategy to take representative sampling of the reports the center generates each year, the agency will now give at least one board member a chance to participate directly in the audit process. The board member will be able to select another randomized sampling – 10 intelligence reports – to evaluate, a strategy designed to prevent selection bias.

“While we have multiple layers of oversight, I think this (MIAC privacy audit) is a relatively new process and we’re open to ways to refine it and improve it,” said Maine State Police Lt. Michael Johnston, the center’s director.

The new measures were approved Thursday during a meeting of the advisory panel for the Maine Information and Analysis Center, which met to discuss the unprecedented hack of its confidential documents that was published online last month by a transparency group, Distributed Denial of Secrets, showing the agency’s work product, which is usually kept confidential from people not in law enforcement.

Scrutiny of the center’s work intensified in February following a Maine Sunday Telegram Report detailing the agency’s refusal at that time to disclose whether it uses facial recognition technology and cellphone interception devices, raising fears it had the capability to spy on Mainers. It subsequently said it does not use facial recognition technology, but some of its partner agencies have access to the techniques, and it’s still unclear what cellphone interception technology the state police possess.

The agency is also the subject of a federal whistleblower lawsuit filed in May by a state trooper, George Loder, who previously worked with the center’s staff, and alleges he suffered professional retaliation when he tried to call out unconstitutional practices and privacy violations. Loder alleges that the center spied on peace activists, collected information on legal gun owners, counter to state law, and passed information about a group opposed to a power transmission line project to Central Maine Power, the company proposing the project.

Since then, the state commissioner for public safety, Michael Sauschuck, has faced tough questions from legislators about the center’s role and what information it does and does not collect. Several lawmakers sat in on the center’s board meeting Thursday and posed questions to its staff and board.

The center’s mission has shifted over time away from counter-terrorism and now focuses mostly on domestic criminal activity, and while its primary purpose is to share information among law enforcement, the agency also assists local police departments with major cases, giving smaller police agencies access to sophisticated technology to track down suspects and solve crimes.

There have been two privacy audits conducted since 2019, when the state police formalized and reconstituted the board of advisers, wrote new bylaws and developed a new privacy policy. The audit process involves a randomly selected, representative sample – 3 percent – of the scores of reports and activity reports the center develops. The agency’s staffers pull the records and score them using a rubric of yes-or-no questions designed to evaluate whether the records violate privacy rules.

But because the information that the agency deals with day to day cannot be released publicly – it often involves identifying information of people who are being investigated but who have not been charged criminally – the public version of the audit includes an overview of the findings, and the sparse, checklist style rubric sheet.

The board of advisers has full access to the underlying police reports and raw information that supports them, providing the full context and history about a particular incident, said Johnston, the center’s director. The board agreed to add a narrative portion to the public audit report, which will give the public a sense of what types of crimes, incidents or reports the center is evaluating.

The Maine Information and Analysis Center was created in 2006 and is one of more than 70 so-called fusion centers created around the country following the attacks of Sept. 11, when the intelligence community, police and domestic terrorism experts failed to properly share information that may have stymied the attacks.

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