A group has asked Gov. Mills and CMP chairman David Flanagan to release any information that may have been collected about about them by the Maine Information and Analysis Center.
Opponents of the Central Maine Power corridor project, who were among those allegedly targeted for surveillance by a secretive state police intelligence unit, are asking for the release of any information gathered about their group.
In a letter sent Thursday to Gov. Janet Mills and CMP Board Chairman David Flanagan, the leader of Say No to the New England Clean Energy Corridor requested a “clearing of the air” over the allegations, which were contained in a federal whistleblower lawsuit filed by state trooper George Loder.
“As you can imagine, this is a scary notion for us,” wrote anti-corridor campaign director Sandra Howard. “Our organization, comprised mostly of Mainers, are peaceful opponents of the corridor because we think it would be bad for Maine. We are just moms, dads, brothers, (and) sisters with a political position. We are not doing anything that deserves the heavy hand of state police intervention.”
Howard said the issue of surveillance is still fresh for the activists. They were also targeted by a CMP-backed political action committee that hired private investigators to look into the activist group’s signature-gathering campaign, and called such tactics stalking. The petition for a citizen referendum on the corridor passed its first hurdle in March when it surpassed the number of signatures required to send the issue to the legislature, which will decide if the question goes on the ballot.
“With that in mind, we would deeply appreciate a clearing of the air,” Howard wrote. “Can the administration and CMP please tell us the extent to which information about corridor opponents may have been collected and shared? This is a reasonable request – to our knowledge, no entity has been given permission to collect our information.”
State police, who run the Maine Information and Analysis Center, say they follow all federal and state privacy laws and that they stand behind their managers targeted in the lawsuit. But since the lawsuit was filed earlier this month, state police and the governor have not publicly shown interest in investigating whether the allegations are true, and say federal court is the most appropriate venue to determine the facts.
In a related complaint by Loder before the Maine Human Rights Commission, the state denied Loder’s charges and said he never brought up concerns about the legality of data collection and that he did not suffer retaliation when he was reassigned away from the federal task force. Loder chose to file his lawsuit before the Human Rights Commission decided the merits of his claims.
Mills’ office did not respond to a request for an interview Thursday, and her office has not provided answers to questions about whether the governor will agree to Howard’s request, or whether she will start her own inquiry within the executive branch to determine whether state police broke state and federal privacy laws.
Three more legislators on Wednesday called for increased transparency and oversight of the intelligence center, and Mills said in a statement that she was open to working with them on the issue. But the Legislature has canceled work because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s unclear when it will reconvene.
“The governor is open to working with legislators in good faith to review any of the MIAC’s protocols and its role in public safety under all pertinent state and federal laws,” Lindsay Crete, Mills’ spokeswoman, said Wednesday. “However, the governor also believes it is appropriate to allow the pending case to proceed in the court system, which we hope will provide for a full airing of the facts that can help inform any other discussions.”
Loder alleges that the intelligence center improperly collected information on opponents of the transmission line project in 2018 and then passed that information to staff at CMP. It is one of several alleged illegal or unethical data collection practices he claims to have witnessed during five years as a detective assigned to a related federal counter-terrorism task force.
Central Maine Power on Thursday said it was investigating the allegations.
“We have the utmost respect for the civil rights of all Mainers, including peaceful protest,” said CMP spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett in a statement. “CMP operates company security under the highest standards and with strict guidelines on the collection and use of information regarding the safeguarding of its personnel and critical infrastructure assets. Our electrical infrastructure is a critical national asset vulnerable to disruption, and our regulators and government expect us to work closely with law enforcement at the federal and state levels to protect our electrical grid.”
The allegations of illegal and unethical data collection by state police at the intelligence center have drawn criticism and curiosity from the three legislators, who on Wednesday called for a legislative investigation into police practices and more direct oversight of the operation by lawmakers.
Loder has also accused the intelligence center of collecting and keeping information on legal gun owners, creating a de-facto gun registry, and of spying on camp counselors at Seeds of Peace, a nonprofit group that runs a summer camp in Maine for young activists that promotes peace around the world.
Loder also alleged that the center formed agreements with neighboring states to collect license plate reader information on Maine-registered vehicles that made frequent or quick trip out of state, looking for couriers carrying shipments of illegal drugs.