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Politics

Bill Would Eliminate Maine's Intelligence-Sharing Center

Lawmakers and civil liberties advocates are calling for the elimination of a "fusion center" within the state's Department of Public Safety.

The Maine Information and Analysis Center was created in 2006 as an intelligence-sharing operation between federal and local partners, but has been under scrutiny for the scope of the intelligence it gathers and for its lack of transparency.

Supporters of the the bill to eliminate the center pointed to a recent lawsuit and leaked documents showing that the unit gathered information on racial justice protestors last year.

At a hearing on a bill to eliminate the center on Monday, Democratic Rep. Charlotte Warren of Hallowell said that a 2012 federal subcommittee of fusion centers nationwide found that these units forwarded intelligence of "uneven" quality and have at times endangered civil liberties.

"If you are a public safety agency that cannot answer the question of how you create public safety, you should not receive government dollars," she said.

But Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuk says eliminating the center would make Maine a "gaping black hole" in the national information sharing network, given that only about a half-dozen local police departments have the resources to hire their own crime analysts.

"That means there's 157, 156, something like that, police departments that do not have the abilities or the capabilities — through no fault of their own, based solely on size and resource allocation — to do this coordination work around crime, as an example. Even at the terrorist level. They don't have that capability. The fusion center provides that capability for us as a state," he says.