Two years ago, an unidentified hacker collective compromised 251 police websites, exfiltrating 270 gigabytes of data and exposing a massive system of public-private surveillance: the regional offices of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program created in the 1990s; the “fusion centers” established after 9/11 to share information across all levels of government; the privately-run “organized retail crime alliances” set up in the last decade by corporate retailers to track shoplifters.

The transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets named this unredacted archive of police data “BlueLeaks” and published it on Juneteenth 2020. We have yet to fully reckon with its implications.

Appearing amid the 2020 racial justice protests, Blueleaks attracted immediate attention. The Intercept, the nonprofit founded to report on the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, provided the most comprehensive coverage, exposing the fear-mongering and political repression that passes as “domestic intelligence.” Intercept reporters found that intelligence analysts manufactured non-existent “eco-terrorists,”  passed information on environmentalists to corporations,  monitored racial justice protests and exaggerated their danger, and downplayed the threat of violence from the far right.

In Maine, BlueLeaks broke furthest and fastest. The hacks compromised the already-controversial Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC), a “fusion center” run by the Maine State Police. In May 2020, a state trooper blew the whistle, alleging that the MIAC illegally gathered and retained data on Mainers, including many suspected of no crime.

Drawing on BlueLeaks, journalists found that the MIAC had shift from counterterrorism to “routine crimes.”  Subsequent peer-reviewed scholarship confirmed this point, countering vague claims from MIAC leadership about MIAC’s role preventing violence with hard evidence that reveals the spy center remains “almost exclusively preoccupied with property crime, violent crime, drugs and homelessness.” An analysis of the MIAC’s “Civil Unrest Daily Reports” on the 2020 racial justice protests found that the MIAC shared disinformation sourced from satirical websites and social media to support claims of paid protestors and “pre-staging of bricks.”

In response, legislators proposed two bills in 2021. An effort to close the spy center passed the house but failed in the senate. Another bill requiring an annual report on the MIAC from the State Police became law, creating a self-policing “surveillance bureaucracy.” Unsurprisingly, many legislators were unimpressed with this self-audit.


In anticipation of this outcome, a grassroots group prepared The MIAC Shadow Report to highlight the official report’s omissions and deficiencies, while raising new questions about the extent and scope of the MIAC’s surveillance powers.

To give just one example, we found that an officer employed by the Scarborough Police and Maine Drug Enforcement Agency used a passcode and encryption circumvention device called a Cellebrite UFED Touch 2 to extract personal data from cell phones. The officer sent the extracted data to the MIAC for analysis. When the MIAC was hacked over a year later, the records, still languishing on the MIAC’s email servers, became public documents.

Police, in other words, are using surveillance systems with no oversight. Maine recently became the first state to regulate law enforcement use of facial recognition surveillance. Should police have cell phone passcode and encryption circumvention devices? This question – and a similar one regarding private data brokers (see the MIAC Shadow Report for more)–has been answered without public input.

Although two years have passed since their publication, BlueLeaks contains many explosive revelations that are still reverberating.  The effort to close the MIAC raised the stakes and inspired others. In Oregon, activists spied on by their state’s fusion center filed a class action suit that alleges that the fusion center operates without legislative authority.

The fight against police surveillance continue and BlueLeaks remains as an essential resource, an unredacted archive of the police state that challenges us to claw our privacy and other freedoms back from the state and corporate powers that seek to make our lives legible for the purposes of social control and profit.

— Special to the Press Herald

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