‘Dangerous and chilling:’ Maine advocates decry Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe / by Evan Popp

Photo: Sen. Susan Collins meets with Justice Brett Kavanaugh ahead of his confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. | Zach Gibson, Getty Images

In a decision by a conservative majority largely appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday struck down Roe v. Wade, invalidating the constitutional protection to an abortion in a decision that immediately puts reproductive rights at risk in 26 Republican-led states.

The ruling was 6-3, with conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett upholding a Mississippi law that would prevent most abortions after 15 weeks while also outright overturning the 1973 Roe decision that enshrined abortion rights into law. Chief Justice John Roberts filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment to uphold the Mississippi statute. 

Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Barrett, Roberts and Alito were all appointed by presidents who originally won the White House despite losing the popular vote. 

The court’s three liberals, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, issued a blistering dissent of the radical conservative court’s opinion. “With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent,” Breyer wrote. 

The ruling comes after a draft opinion leaked in May showed a majority of justices were prepared to overturn abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade. That draft opinion generated outrage, but the ultimate outcome of the case remained unchanged. 

‘A fundamental assault on women’s rights’ 

Abortion rights in many conservative-led states are likely to be immediately curbed following the decision. 

In Maine, though, lawmakers have codified abortion into state law, meaning it is still legal following the ruling. However, the entire state legislature and the Blaine House are up for grabs in November’s election and the Maine Republican Party and GOP gubernatorial nominee Paul LePage are hostile to abortion rights, putting reproductive health care at risk if the former governor and a Republican majority are elected in November. 

Current Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is a supporter of abortion and decried the Supreme Court ruling in a statement Friday. 

“This decision is a fundamental assault on women’s rights and on reproductive freedom that will do nothing to stop abortion. In fact, it will only make abortion less safe and jeopardize the lives of women across the nation,” Mills said. “In Maine, I will defend the right to reproductive health care with everything I have, and I pledge to the people of Maine that, so long as I am governor, my veto pen will stand in the way of any effort to undermine, rollback, or outright eliminate the right to safe and legal abortion in Maine.”

Others around the state also condemned the court’s ruling. 

“By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has now officially given politicians permission to control what we do with our bodies, deciding that we can no longer be trusted to determine the course for our own lives,” said Nicole Clegg, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund. “This dangerous and chilling decision will have devastating consequences across the country, forcing people to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles for care or remain pregnant.”

Clegg emphasized that abortion is still legal in Maine but noted the threat that LePage and Republicans in the state pose to reproductive health rights. She added that despite the actions of a reactionary Supreme Court, support for legal abortion remains strong around the country, with about 80% of people in favor.

Those in need of abortion-related health care can go to ppnne.org or call Planned Parenthood of Northern New England at 1-866-476-1321 to book an appointment, Clegg said.

In response the decision, Clegg said the group is organizing a march tonight at 5:15 p.m. in support of abortion rights. The rally will start at Lincoln Park in Portland and continue to City Hall, where there will be speakers. In addition, Maine’s three abortion providers — Planned Parenthood, Maine Family Planning and the Mabel Wadsworth Center — will be holding an online forum June 25 at 6:30 p.m. to provide an opportunity for community members to respond to the ruling. 

“The impacts of this decision will fall hardest on people who already face discriminatory obstacles to health care — particularly Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, young people, undocumented people, and those having difficulty making ends meet,” a spokesperson for Maine Family Planning wrote in an email.  

“The right to abortion should be protected at the national level and not left to the states. But with this decision, Maine people must lift their voices together and declare emphatically that we will not be rolling back rights here in Maine,” the organization added. 

Others around the state also weighed in on the decision, with the ACLU of Maine calling the ruling shameful and emphasizing the need to safeguard the right to an abortion in the state. Maine Democratic Socialists of America criticized the ruling as well and wrote on Twitter that the group will be holding a rally at Portland’s Monument Square at 2 p.m. on June 26, where people can hear from “abortion recipients, providers, and organizers, connect with attendees and form networks of support and action.” 

Collins under fire after ruling

Following the decision, advocates directed ire at Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who purports to support abortion rights but has helped block attempts to codify reproductive health care into law in the face of the Supreme Court case challenging Roe

Collins also famously cast a pivotal vote in favor of Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault and who many feared would rule against abortion rights. In defending her vote for Kavanaugh, Collins repeatedly claimed that the judge — along with Gorsuch, who she also voted to confirm — would respect precedent set by Roe v. Wade and not vote to overturn it. On Friday, however, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch both voted to strip the constitutional protection to an abortion. 

When the draft opinion was leaked in May, advocates expressed frustration that they had repeatedly warned Collins about what voting for Kavanaugh and Gorsuch would mean for abortion rights. “Susan Collins told American women to trust her to protect Roe. She lied,” read the headline of one opinion piece published by the Daily Beast.  

Following Friday’s ruling, Collins told reporters that the decision was “inconsistent with what Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said in their testimony and their meetings with me, where they both were insistent on the importance of supporting long-standing precedents that the country has relied upon.” The Maine Republican added that the court’s ruling overturning abortion “is a sudden and radical jolt to the country that will lead to political chaos, anger, and a further loss of confidence in our government.”

However, the group Mainers for Accountable Leadership argued that by voting for Kavanaugh and Gorsuch after reproductive health advocates begged her to oppose them, Collins chose a path that helped lead to Friday’s decision. 

“Senator Collins, the overturning of Roe and Casey is your legacy,” the group tweeted. “While you call yourself a trailblazing woman you have used that power to take away a woman’s bodily autonomy. That’s enabling patriarchal and misogynistic systems. We will never forget.” 

The Maine Democratic Party also criticized the senator, arguing that Collins’ vote for Kavanaugh and “other virulently anti-choice justices” in part paved the way for abortion rights to be overturned.  

Others in the state’s congressional delegation weighed in on Friday’s ruling as well. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree called the decision catastrophic and said it represents “the culmination of a decades-long effort by Republican extremists to install anti-choice justices on a high court that routinely overrules Congress and the public’s will with impunity.” 

In his statement, Sen. Angus King said the decision was “infuriating” but “unfortunately not a surprise.” He said the goal of overturning abortion rights through the Supreme Court was made explicit by Trump and was a large reason for why — in contrast with Collins — he voted against confirming Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. 

“This ruling goes against the wishes of the majority of Americans, and lays a terrifying groundwork for this court to unravel many other hard-earned civil rights in the years ahead,” King said. 

Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at evan(at)mainebeacon.com.

Maine Beacon, June 24, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/

Maine News: MIAC ‘shadow report’ raises questions about surveillance, targeting of vulnerable Mainers / by Dan Neumann

Ahead of the first public internal audit by the embattled police anti-terrorism agency, the Maine Information Analysis Center (MIAC), a group of grassroots advocates released a report on Friday highlighting the many unanswered questions about the scope of the shadowy agency’s surveillance activities, including its efforts to target vulnerable Mainers.

The authors of “MIAC Shadow Report,” including University of Southern Maine criminology professor Brendan McQuade, say they wanted to highlight what the public knows — and doesn’t — about the agency, anticipating that MIAC’s first public report on its activities likely won’t yield any meaningful oversight. 

MIAC is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s network of state-run “fusion centers” created after 9/11 to gather and disseminate intelligence to law enforcement and private-sector clients about potential terrorist threats. 

The authors say among the most concerning questions they have about MIAC is the full extent and scope of the MIAC’s surveillance capabilities, as well as the potential harm it causes to the vulnerable populations the fusion center most frequently targets — people who use drugs, people with mental illnesses and unhoused people.

“The term ‘shadow report’ isn’t ours. It comes from reporting related to United Nation treaty obligations, where civil society organizations will release reports that supplement official reporting from governments,” explained McQuade.

McQuade is the author of the 2019 book, “Pacifying the Homeland: Intelligence Fusion and Mass Supervision,” which documents the rise of fusion centers as part of the mass surveillance infrastructure. 

“We hope to renew interest in MIAC and raise the issue for people concerned about privacy and for people who would like to see a public health approach to substance use disorder,” he said.

Maine lawmakers nearly closed the fusion center last year, but chose transparency instead

MIAC director Lieutenant Michael Johnston speaks with a reporter in the fusion center office in Augusta. In 2020, amid increased scrutiny due to a whistleblower lawsuit and data breach, MIAC opened its doors to journalists to dispel its characterization as a “spy” organization. | Beacon

In May 2020, MIAC came under fire after Maine State Trooper George Loder filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging the fusion center violated privacy laws, maintained an illegal database of gun owners, and monitored youth groups and environmentalists and shared intel with their corporate partners, including Central Maine Power.

A month later, amid the George Floyd uprisings against police violence, a nationwide hack of police data revealed that MIAC had closely monitored peaceful racial justice protests and produced sometimes spurious “situational awareness reports” gleaned from unfounded rumors spread on right-wing online platforms. Those false reports were distributed to police departments.

The mass protests of 2020 put increased scrutiny on fusion centers across the country and efforts are currently underway to defund or take legal action against centers in Boston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Oregon. 

In 2021, Maine went further than any other state had ever gone through a legislative effort to close a fusion center with a bipartisan bill that passed the Maine House but died in the Senate. 

The increased criticism of MIAC did however result in a narrower bill passing that same year. LD 12 required the Maine Department of Public Safety (DPS) to present an annual report on MIAC to the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The shadow report is an unofficial supplement to DPS’ report, say the the authors, who include McQuade, social worker Chris Cushing, privacy advocate Michael LeComte, Maine law student Mark Sayre and monitoring, evaluation and learning specialist Maxine Secskas.

The shadow report is sponsored by a coalition of Maine-based and national advocacy groups including the Church of Safe Injection, the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Maine Democratic Socialists of America, Maine Youth Justice, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Muslim Justice League.

McQuade says the report is also intended to keep the public focused on MIAC.

“I think getting the support we had in the House was impressive, but I wanted to keep the fight going,” he said. “I still think that MIAC is vulnerable.” 

MIAC has access to private databases that violates its privacy policy

The advocates don’t believe that DPS’ forthcoming report to lawmakers will significantly increase the public’s knowledge of the inner workings of MIAC beyond what was glimpsed from the whistleblower suit and the hack in 2020. 

Their report describes the official reporting requirements as “fundamentally flawed.”

“The DPS report is an exercise in self-policing by the MIAC’s Advisory Board, a body mostly composed of MIAC personnel,” the report reads. “Even if the privacy audit were conducted by an independent body, the scope of the process would be too narrow to address the concerns raised in 2020. It only audits a random selection of MIAC documents.”

The DPS audit will not go any further than the data produced and shared by MIAC. Among the missing pieces of information, according to the shadow report authors, is what surveillance technologies the fusion center employs. 

This is concerning to the researchers because many private data brokers can collect vast amounts of information on bankruptcies, liens, properties, corporate affiliations and other personal information that would violate the fusion center’s own privacy policies by allowing it to acquire information that it cannot legally acquire by itself.

The authors have found evidence through public record requests that MIAC uses such commercial databases as part of its investigations. One heavily redacted record obtained by the researchers shows that MIAC used the American consumer credit reporting agency TransUnion to gather information on one individual, providing them access to information on their jobs, emails, usernames, aliases, and numerous social media profiles and internet sites.

The 2020 hack also revealed that MIAC used the Israeli digital intelligence company Cellebrite to access encrypted data from a cell phone.

“This is information that you can’t get without a warrant and MIAC has access to that,” McQuade said. “MIAC’s privacy policy expressly prohibits them from gathering information that is not related to a criminal investigation, and it seems like using a private data broker obliterates that.”

Counterterrorism has morphed into ‘supercharged’ policing of drug, property crimes

Maine State Police official photo.

Just as concerning to the authors of the shadow report as the potential privacy violations are the unknown harms to the people who are the focus of much of the center’s intelligence sharing, mainly people involved in low-level drug and property crimes.

One-third of the intelligence reports produced or disseminated by MIAC concern drugs, the report states. And 14 of the 15 most downloaded documents of the fusion center concern property crime. 

The report explains that the bulk of the work of fusion centers that were born under the “War on Terror” is now being waged in the failed “War on Drugs.” This is because there is too little activity that is clearly terrorism related, so fusion centers, to justify their budgets, have been redirected to be supplements to law enforcement.

“The United States became the global leader in incarceration by treating all social problems as issues for the cops and courts,” the report reads. “The MIAC, and other fusion centers, are part of this process. Fusion centers are the nerve system of mass criminalization.”

McQuade elaborated on the report’s conclusion that fusion centers have “supercharged policing.”

“The government poured millions, by some counts billions of dollars, into fusion centers in the name of counterterrorism. But terrorism is an exceedingly remote phenomenon,” he told Beacon. “So, you give police money and access to all these databases and fancy software and data analysts and what are they going to do? They’re going to do what police traditionally do, which is police conventional crimes. It just adds another layer of institutional structure on this monstrous apparatus for managing social problems through the cops and courts.”

The human impacts of this form of intelligence-driven policing are unmeasured and need to be brought out into the light, the shadow report’s authors say. They documented individuals who were the subject of leaked intelligence reports, including harm reduction advocate and founder of the Church of Safe Injection Jesse Harvey, who died of an overdose in 2020. The researchers talked to Harvey’s friends who believe police surveillance and relapses during the pandemic contributed to the activist’s death.

The report also document the case of Joshua Hussey, who had violated a restraining order filed by his ex-girlfriend after he vandalized her home and car. A MIAC report described Hussey as a known runner from police saying that he had made numerous statements to family and friends that he intended to commit suicide by cop. Despite this intelligence, the Maine State Police sent a tactical team at 2 a.m. to apprehend Hussey, who shot himself during the confrontation. 

“He’s not a sympathetic offender but I don’t think that needed to happen,” McQuade said. “I would like to see as part of an investigation a thorough follow up on what happens to these people with mental illness, with chronic illnesses, with suicidal thoughts who end up being part of an indiscriminate MIAC dragnet. Do they end up in better circumstances? Or do they end up like Joshua Hussey?”

‘This is public-private surveillance’

The shadow report ends on a series of unanswered questions the authors would like lawmakers to ask of fusion center leadership. But the authors concede that for them and the report’s sponsors the issue is already settled — MIAC should be defunded. 

To McQuade, fusion centers represent an unnerving — and sometimes comically inept — evolution of the militarization of policing. Just as police have used sonic crowd control weapons developed in U.S. wars abroad against protesters in American cities, intelligence sharing infrastructure developed for counterterrorism is now being deployed to protect private property in the post-industrial mill towns of Lewiston-Auburn. 

Another anecdote detailed in the report is that the Auburn Mall is a client of MIAC and receives intelligence reports. The mall is adjacent to the four highest poverty census tracts in the state, the report notes, and mall security mostly read MIAC reports on people who have been arrested for opioid use or shoplifting.

“On the one hand, they’re Big Brother. On the other hand, it’s ‘Reno 911’ or ‘The Keystone Cops,’” McQuade said, referencing reporting on the 2020 hack by Mainer that found, among other things, that MIAC credulously shared a report on a satirical website, “protestjobs.com,” warning police that protesters were being paid by unknown sources to cause violence. 

“It’s not just about MIAC, it’s about the way state and corporate powers use the massive amounts of data that we produce just as a matter of course, just living our lives to make our lives visible and legible to institutional actors,” he continued, explaining that in addition to MIAC being hacked in 2020, the New England Organized Retail Crime Alliance, which shares data on shoplifters, was also hacked. The breach showed the alliance shares and receives information from fusion centers.

“This is public-private surveillance,” McQuade said. “Our personal information is used to make profits, but it’s also used to govern us and we didn’t have a conversation about that. It was not a public debate. It was decided in corporate boardrooms and among security agencies. And I don’t think people want that.”

Top photo: Racial justice protestors demonstrate outside the Portland Police Department in 202o in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd. | Beacon

Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at dan(at)mainebeacon.com.

Beacon, April 1, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/