Maine: Portland councilors hear criticism of city’s proposed cannabis rules

Speakers question the plan to use a merit-based scoring system to award 20 retail marijuana licenses, saying it favors big businesses and could exclude people who already have invested significant time and money.

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Over the last decade, almost every business move medical marijuana caregiver Dave Stephenson made has been in preparation to join Maine’s adult-use cannabis market – from establishing his grow, Hazy Hill Farm, in Portland to establishing a loyal customer base through a cannabis delivery service.

He has spent the last year and a half hunting for a retail space. Reluctant landlords, exorbitant lease costs, federal mortgage prohibitions and local land-use restrictions proved difficult, but he signed on the dotted line in February to claim his spot after Portland adopted its marijuana zoning rules.

But the undisclosed retail location he has been paying for since February will be worthless if he cannot get the retail marijuana license that he needs to open a marijuana business in the city. With the city calling for a maximum of no more than 20 retail stores, that is looking less likely every day.

“The City Council gave us zoning regulations and as entrepreneurs, we went out and we signed leases and purchased real estate with no warning that we might not be able to open our businesses under these local guidelines,” Stephenson told members of two City Council committees that met on Tuesday.

“Local business owners, myself included, have invested large amounts of money and time into their retail space, and it could all be for nothing if we don’t make the cut,” the longtime Portland resident said. “So I must ask, why limit it to 20 stores? Why limit it at all?”

Stephenson was one of two dozen people who weighed in on the city’s proposed marijuana regulations at a joint meeting of the council’s economic development and health and human services committees on Tuesday. Concerns ranged from the kind of safe businesses must use to whether seating should be allowed.

But the biggest concerns raised by one speaker after the other was the city’s proposed limit on the number of retail stores allowed and the points system it would use to score retail license applications with the highest-scoring applicants being first in line to claim a retail permit.

The city initially proposed a 20-license cap in August, but under the first set of rules, it would have given out the licenses based on a first-come, first-served basis. In October, city staff proposed a change over to weighted scoring, awarding bonus points to encourage diverse, local and successful applicants.

Under the proposed system, the city would award points to women, minorities, veterans and immigrants who have come to Portland over the last decade, those who have lived in Maine for at least five years, and those willing to share 1 percent of their profits with the city, among other conditions.

Speakers complained that the scoring system favors big businesses, awarding a bonus point to those who are able to prove they have at least $150,000 in liquid assets, for example, while giving little consideration to the medical marijuana caregivers who paved the way for the adult-use market.

The proposed scoring system would award a medical marijuana retail store with an established record of compliance in a heavily regulated industry the same consideration as a local barber who had been cutting hair for five years, said Tom Mourmouras, who runs the Fire on Fore medical retail shop in Old Port.

Since opening this summer, Fire on Fore has conducted 28,000 medical cannabis sales, all compliant and tracked, contributed $100,000 in sales tax to Maine state coffers and paid 20 employees a living wage, he said. That ought to be more highly valued by the city than a barber or electrician, he said.

He also accused the city of changing its stance on grandfathering already permitted medical shops. In the fall, when the City Council adopted a moratorium on new shops while crafting its rules, Mourmouras was told Fire on Fore was safe, but now he is being told he will have to compete for one of 20 retail licenses.

“Since then, my business partner and I have invested our life savings into the business,” Mourmouras said. “The city’s current stance on grandfathering would exclude us. Why is my business punished for operating a successful store? I’m up here tonight fighting for my business, my employees and my 50 vendors.”

Andrew Pettingill, a co-owner of Evergreen Cannabis Co., complained about giving a bonus to an applicant who can prove that he has $150,000 in liquid assets, an amount that city staff said a business in this industry will need to have just to get through its first year of operations.

He said anyone in this business could meet that threshold if they were willing to sell part of the equity in their business to outside investors, but it’s not fair to demand that of small operators like Evergreen that already have spent twice that to set up the business, build a brand and fit out a quality grow.

But mostly, the Munjoy Hill businessman said he is impatient for Portland to finally adopt its regulations.

“I’ve been paying $40 a square foot on my retail space since (February) without being able to operate,” Pettingill said. “I’m patiently waiting for the council and the committee to move forward. … I’d just like to express my concerns about the time it is taking.”

Former state Rep. Diane Russell, who helped organize the 2016 state referendum that legalized adult-use cannabis, urged the city to abandon its proposed cap and to consider awarding even more points to those people of color who have been most harmed by the country’s failed drug policies.

“It is not government’s job to make a business successful,” said Russell, who now serves on the board of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “It’s the job of the market and the competition. We should let the people and the competition rise up to decide.”

Chris McCabe, a city resident and attorney who practices cannabis law, warned the committees that a city that tips the scale toward one kind of applicant over another is essentially “picking winners and losers,” and opens itself up to costly lawsuits over arbitrary, capricious or wrong-headed regulations.

The city took no action on the proposal Tuesday. The two council committees will meet again to consider particularly controversial aspects of the proposal, especially the retail license cap and the scoring system, but did not set a date for the next meeting.

Moveon.org: HAPPENING NOW: WE’RE AT ALL SIX OF SUSAN COLLINS’ OFFICES ACROSS MAINE

download (2)I’m Caleb, an organizer working with MoveOn on impeachment here in Maine (you may have heard from me or my colleague Bonnie last week!).

As I send you this email, right now, Mainers from Caribou to Portland are at all six of Senator Susan Collins’ Maine offices demanding that she uphold her oath of office “to support and defend the Constitution” and that she hold Trump accountable by supporting his impeachment and removal.

Sen. Collins is home this week—so she has no excuses for not meeting with us.

If you weren’t able to join us in person today, can you help by flooding her district offices with calls?

Give her a call at your closest district office: 

  • Senator Susan M. Collins
    • Augusta, ME: 207-622-8414
    • Bangor, ME: 207-945-0417
    • Biddeford, ME: 207-283-1101
    • Caribou, ME: 207-493-7873
    • Lewiston, ME: 207-784-6969
    • Portland, ME: 207-780-3575

You can say something like this: No one is above the law. Please support the impeachment inquiry in the House and vote to convict and remove Trump in the Senate. There is already overwhelming evidence of Trump’s crimes and corruption, and you need to uphold your oath to support and defend the Constitution!

Then, let us know how the call went.

Here’s why it’s so important that we keep up the pressure on Collins today:

Last week, Sen. Collins, along with Mitt Romney and other Republican senators, met with Trump at the White House—in the middle of ongoing impeachment hearings.1

Collins has used the excuse that she’s acting as a “juror” in Trump’s trial in the Senate to justify her silence on Trump’s crimes. But have you ever heard of a juror holding private meetings with a defendant?2

It’s clear that, right now, Collins isn’t planning to be an impartial juror. She’s meeting with Trump behind closed doors but, so far, has refused to meet with her constituents who support impeachment and removal. Let’s change that.

As we show up at Collins’ offices all across the state today, it’d be really helpful if you could pile on by calling in. Click here to get a number and script; then, let us know how the call went.

Thanks for all you do.

–Caleb, Bonnie, Brian, Anne, and the rest of the team and the rest of the team

P.S. Check out MoveOn’s Facebook page to watch and share a livestream of our office visit in Portland!

Maine: Panel considers ways to improve indigent legal services

Former Maine Chief Justice Daniel Wathen says something has to happen to ensure adequate funding and representation for poor people tried for crimes in the state.

AUGUSTA — A former Maine chief justice said something has to happen to ensure adequate funding and representation for poor people tried for crimes in Maine.

More resources are needed regardless whether the state sticks with the current system or creates a public defender office, Daniel Wathen said.

The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services held a public hearing last week as the panelists prepare a series of proposals to address the effectiveness of the state’s current system to provide legal defense to Maine’s poor.“Either an assigned counsel system or a public defender system can work. Both have advantages and disadvantages. But under either scenario, it requires adequate funding that the system has never experienced,” he told The Associated Press.

That system is under new scrutiny for lax oversight of the billing practices by the private attorneys commissioned to defend low-income clients.

A scathing report released in April detailed significant shortcomings.

All states are required to provide an attorney to people who are unable to afford their own lawyer under a landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Maine is the only one of them that hires and assigns private attorneys to what are known as “indigent” cases. All other states now meet the requirement through some version of a public defender’s office and a staff of attorneys.

Alison Beyea, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said the April report by the nonpartisan Sixth Amendment Center found that the system is failing indigent clients.

“The state has no mechanism in place for sorting the good from the bad, or for giving remedial training to the lawyers who are underqualified to do their job,” she said.

She pointed out that the ACLU has sued in other states for changes. But the ACLU is optimistic that the commission can make changes to avoid legal action.

In the 2018 fiscal year, Maine spent more than $21 million statewide to provide court-appointed counsel to Maine’s poor. The commission’s spending has nearly doubled in the nine years since it began overseeing several hundred private defense attorneys.

Pine Tree Watch, a nonprofit news service, launched an investigation and found that $2.2 million in potential overbilling by private attorneys.

Job posting touting Maine’s ‘short season of decomposed bodies’ adds to the drumbeat against Dr. Mark Flomenbaum.

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A Maine state medical examiner who fancies himself a comedian. What could possibly go wrong?

Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, Maine’s embattled chief medical examiner, has for the better part of a year been under the microscope for all kinds of eyebrow-raising activities.

But revelations last week go beyond previous questions about Flomenbaum’s competence and his moonlighting as a private consultant in addition to his day job.

Now we learn he makes jokes, on the internet, about dead people.

“It’s outrageous … that he has such a callous disregard for the sanctity of what it means to hold that job,” said state Rep. Jeff Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, who has several complaints pending against Flomenbaum with the Maine Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the medical examiner.

The latest flap involves a listing for a deputy medical examiner posted on the National Association of Medical Examiners job website, among other places, in August 2017. Flomenbaum and Kirsten Figueroa, who left the AG’s office last winter to become commissioner of Maine’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services, are listed as the contacts.

The ad is pure boilerplate at first – workload, areas of responsibility, that sort of thing. But then, in a list of bullet points detailing why Maine is “an ideal environment” for a forensic pathologist, the post takes a sudden lurch into the macabre.

Calling Maine “a winter mecca” for various outdoor sports, it adds parenthetically, “translation: really short season of decomposed bodies.

Lauding Maine’s “vast waterways and enormous coastline ideal for aquatic and marine sports,” it quips: “translation: many bodies are lost at sea or wind up in either New Hampshire or Canada.”

On our relatively small population distributed over a large area: “translation: only the bodies that really need to come in for autopsies will do so.

If he was serious, Flomenbaum has a truly bizarre way of looking at the state that in 2018 paid him just under $280,000 in salary and benefits to pick up where death, often violently or tragically, leaves off.

And if he was joking, well, maybe the man needs a long sabbatical.

Some undoubtedly will dismiss the ad as gallows humor, that built-in defense mechanism that serves as an emotional shield for those who regularly deal with horrendous situations. But a wisecrack in the relative privacy of a police station or trauma center or, for that matter, autopsy room, is one thing – a momentary stress reliever intended for the benefit of a small, sympathetic audience.

A posting on the internet? That’s public. That sticks around. That’s a statement to the world about who you are and how you view work that, by any societal measure, is no joke.

“They can have their funny moments whenever,” Evangelos said. “But this was the job posting for the deputy medical examiner. Gimme a break.”

The medical examiner’s office declined a Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald request for an interview on Friday. The AG’s office did not respond to a request for an interview. Contacted via his cellphone on Saturday, Flomenbaum refused to speak on the record.

And from Gov. Janet Mills, on whose watch as attorney general the ad went out, we got only this from spokesman Scott Ogden on Friday: The governor “has a great deal of respect for and confidence in Dr. Flomenbaum and his office.”

Really?

This is the same medical examiner who 12 years ago was fired in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Deval Patrick after an investigation found that state’s medical examiner’s office “on the verge of collapse.” They’d even lost track of a body.

The same medical examiner who, as part of his Lincoln Forensics LLC consulting gig, was found “not credible” as a defense witness in a 2016 Connecticut manslaughter trial involving the fatal beating of a 3-year-old girl. The prosecutor, who won the case, went so far as to alert then-AG Mills that Maine might want to disclose Flomenbaum’s credibility problem when he testifies in court cases here.

It’s the same medical examiner whose last-minute change of opinion on the angle of a gunshot caused a mistrial last February in the murder trial of Noah Gaston. Fortunately, following a retrial that proceeded without incident, a jury on Friday found Gaston guilty of murdering his 34-year-old wife, Alicia.

And it’s the same medical examiner who cited “acute and chronic alcoholism” as contributing to the heart-and-diabetes-related death of Appalachian Trail hiker Jeff Aylward, 63, who was found dead near his Rangeley campsite in August after having no contact with his family for 13 days.

Late Friday, under pressure from Aylward’s widow, Ann, and two private experts who said the alcohol in Jeff Aylward’s system was actually the result of the body’s decay, Flomenbaum quietly removed any mention of alcoholism from his report.  Under “major findings,” he included “moderate postmortem putrefaction,” which is known to produce sometimes high levels of alcohol in the body as it decomposes.

Any one of these flubs would be enough to wonder if Maine is getting its money’s worth from this guy. Taken together, it’s hard to grasp how the normally no-nonsense Gov. Mills still has “a great deal of respect for and confidence in” him.

Now, on top of it all, we discover that Flomenbaum likes Maine for its “short season on decomposed bodies” and sees our rivers and bays as conduits for whisking our corpses to other jurisdictions.

“Flomenbaum has no credibility left, yet it is to him who our prosecutors look to for ‘evidence’ that ends up imprisoning Mainers,” Evangelos said in an email on Saturday. “It’s beyond belief and I expect his lack of credibility will continue to plague our court proceedings.”

Contacted Saturday at her home in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Ann Aylward said she had not yet heard about the medical examiner’s ghoulish job posting. After hearing it read to her, she said she was disgusted but not surprised.

Aylward said she felt early on after her husband’s death that Flomenbaum had no interest in hearing her objections to the alcohol finding – because of his diabetes, she has maintained, Jeff Aylward stopped drinking alcohol 15 years ago.

Her inability to get Flomenbaum on the phone – all of her dealings, she said, were with a subordinate – eventually convinced Aylward that she’d only succeed at clearing her husband’s name if she took on the medical examiner publicly.

Apparently, it worked.

“He never picked up the phone. He never spoke to us. He never even made the attempt,” Alyward said, adding that the not-so-funny job posting only confirms to her that “something’s not right” with Flomenbaum.

“If that’s how he has to find his peace in the work that he does, he needs to get out of that work,” she said. “He needs to get out of that job.”

Trump may be Maine Sen. Susan Collins’ biggest re-election hurdle

Add in the impeachment inquiry, and the Republican has more to worry about than just her Democratic challengers

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, hands out candy to children outside her office during an Oct. 25 trick-or-treat event hosted by the local chamber of commerce in Lewiston. Associated Press/David Sharp

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, hands out candy to children outside her office during an Oct. 25 trick-or-treat event hosted by the local chamber of commerce in Lewiston.

LEWISTON — Republican Sen. Susan Collins has a well-funded Democrat prepping to challenge her next year. She has national women’s groups ready to attack her over her vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And she’s a moderate facing an electorate that increasingly prioritizes purity.

Still, the four-term Maine senator’s biggest hurdle to re-election may be the president of her own party.

President Trump’s potential impeachment in the House and subsequent trial in the Senate presents a distinct dilemma for Collins. Of the handful of Republicans senators facing re-election next year, she has done perhaps the most to keep a clear distance from Trump. But as Democrats charge ahead toward impeachment, it looks increasingly likely that Collins will be forced to take sides in dramatic fashion. The senator, who has acknowledged she didn’t vote for the president in 2016 and still won’t say whether she will next year, may have to vote for him on the Senate floor.

“Susan Collins is in a terrible position,” said David Farmer, a Democratic operative in Maine. “The position that she’s in where she will likely … take a vote on whether to remove the president from office is going to inflame either the Democratic or the Republican base.”

Collins has kept mum on the House inquiry into whether the president abused his power by trying to get the president of Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter because of her potential role as an impeachment juror.

But she’s already shown a willingness to criticize the president on various issues. She said it was “completely inappropriate” for Trump to ask China to investigate the Bidens. And she said his decision to pull U.S. troops from the border in Syria and leave Kurds open to attack was “terribly unwise.”

Trump often lashes out at those who criticize him, even those in his own party, like Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

But he has not attacked Collins, yet.

Collins’ aides shrug off questions of how presidential politics could factor into her race, and the 66-year-old senator said she’s built her career on an independence valued by Mainers.

“I just have to run, should I decide to run, my own race. And that’s what I’ve always done regardless of who’s on the top of the ticket,” she told The Associated Press.

She has said she plans to formally announce whether she’s seeking re-election later this fall.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has thrown its support behind Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon. The three other Democratic candidates are activist Betsy Sweet, attorney Bre Kidman and a late-comer, former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse.

For her part, Gideon has been touting her progressive credentials in her fundraising, but she’s stopped shy of supporting Medicare for All or the Green New Deal, though she says climate change and universal health care are important to her.

She’s unequivocal on Trump.

She supports the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry – and accuses Collins of failing to stand up to Trump. “In the times that we’ve needed her the most, since (Trump) has become president, she’s not delivering for us,” Gideon told a gathering in Portland.

Gideon raised $1 million more than Collins in the most recent reporting cycle. But Collins has raised far more money – $8.6 million – the largest of any political candidate in Maine history. Pundits suggest upward of $80 million to $100 million could be spent on this race before Election Day 2020.

Democrats see an opportunity as Collins navigates a potentially precarious path in a fractured state where Trump is reviled in liberal, coastal communities and cheered in the conservative, heavily wooded north.

Try as she might, she won’t be able to avoid Trump, who’s expected to campaign in Maine, where he claimed one of the state’s four electoral votes in 2016.

Josh Tardy, a Bangor attorney and former Republican leader in the Maine House, said Mainers expect Collins to demonstrate “due diligence” on her constitutionally imposed obligations when it comes to impeachment.

But he downplayed the impact in her race.

“I think most people view this impeachment as partisan tit for tat. I don’t think that’s (going) to drive the election needle one way or the other,” he said.

In Lewiston, a former mill town on the Androscoggin River, the senator’s challenges were clear even at a recent event hosted by the local chamber of commerce.

Collins appeared at ease as she handed out Halloween candy to children, posed for selfies and chatted with the adults. But some voters were less so.

Hillary Dow said she was “troubled” by a key vote that incensed Democrats – Collins’ support of Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault during the Supreme Court confirmation process. But she said she continues to back Collins because of the bigger picture – her moderate views, her bipartisanship, her track record.

“I appreciate that she’s honest and fair, and she focuses on what really matters. She’s a good person,” she said.

But one man who sought out Collins for a photo later acknowledged he might not vote at all because he’s so frustrated with national politics.

“I’m not sure if I trust anyone anymore, as far as the politicians go,” said restaurant worker Craig Aleo. “It’s a tough world right now.”

Collins conceded it’s a difficult time for a politician who has made a career trying to broker legislative deals.

“The current environment is very disturbing to me. There’s a lack of focus on what we need to do for the American people, and instead the focus is on power struggles over who’s going to control what,” she said.

Collins hails from Caribou, in the conservative 2nd Congressional District that voted for Trump. That’s where her parents served as mayor, and where her family still runs the S.W. Collins hardware store.

Ousting Collins from Maine politics, where her roots run deep, is no small task.

Cynthia Noyes, who describes herself as “liberal in Republican clothing,” fears that her friend from high school is more vulnerable this election cycle. But the Caribou flower shop owner still supports Collins, and she hopes other independent-minded voters will support her as they have in the past.

“Do what’s right and you’ll be OK. Mainers are like that. If they think you’re doing the right thing, then you’ll be OK,” she said.

Maine: Portland considers ban on face-scanning technology

Civil rights advocates fear the proliferating facial recognition technology will be used to conduct mass surveillance of innocent civilians without probable cause.

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Pious Ali poses for a photo in the Portland International Jetport on Thursday before catching a flight to Washington, D.C. Ali and fellow Portland Councilor Brian Batson are proposing that Portland ban the use of facial scanning technology by city employees, including the police department. If successful, Portland would be the first community in the state, and one of a few in the country, to ban the technology.

Pious Ali poses for a photo in the Portland International Jetport on Thursday before catching a flight to Washington, D.C. Ali and fellow Portland Councilor Brian Batson are proposing that Portland ban the use of facial scanning technology by city employees, including the police department. If successful, Portland would be the first community in the state, and one of a few in the country, to ban the technology.

Apple uses it to help users unlock the latest iPhones. Facebook uses it to identify friends and family members in the photos you post. And several airlines are using it instead of boarding passes to screen passengers.

It’s everywhere. But the proliferation of facial recognition technology is raising concerns among civil rights advocates and others who fear the technology will be used to conduct mass surveillance of innocent civilians. Critics also point out the technology is less reliable in identifying people of color or women than white men, which can lead to false-positive identifications of racial and ethnic minorities in criminal investigations.

Now Portland City Councilors Pious Ali and Brian Batson want the city to formally ban the use of facial recognition technology and similar identification tools by city employees, including the city’s police department. If successful, Portland would be the first community in the state – and one of a small but growing number of cities around the country – to enact a ban on the technology.

Portland councilors are scheduled to take up the issue Monday. The discussion comes as Maine’s largest city has embraced so-called smart-city technology, which includes traffic monitoring and has stoked fears about government’s increasing ability to watch over citizens. And Portland’s police officers are now equipped with cameras mounted on their chests to capture video of each person an officer interacts with, another source of concern about privacy.

Portland’s smart city efforts so far include LED streetlights that can double as WiFi routers and sophisticated traffic management systems that can read and adjust signals in response to real-time traffic. Portland officials have expressed interest in other “public safety functions,” but so far, officials say that has not included facial recognition technology.

Ali would like to keep it that way.

“It’s a proactive way to say, ‘I don’t want this,’ ” Ali said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Portland Police Chief Frank Clark did not respond to interview requests for this story. Clark last week delayed plans for Portland’s school resource officers to activate body cameras after school officials raised concerns about student privacy.

City Manager Jon Jennings said he was looking forward to the discussion but wants to keep the city’s options open when it comes to technology that could be beneficial in the future.

“City staff is eager to follow the discussion on facial recognition software at the council meeting on Monday,” Jennings said in an email. “While the city currently does not use facial recognition, there may be instances in the future where partners at the Jetport or on the waterfront may want to implement. The city currently does not plan to utilize this technology, but there may be needs in the future. Ultimately this will be up to the City Council to decide and we will follow their direction.”

A 2016 study by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology said that 117 million Americans, or one out of every two people, already have their image in a law enforcement face recognition database, mostly from driver’s license or passport photos. At least 26 states allow law enforcement to run facial recognition searches. The report says police in Maine can search 24.9 million mugshots. And of the 52 police agencies nationwide believed to be using the technology, only four had a public policy about how the technology is used, researchers say.

Facial recognition has been around for decades, but technological advances in recent years, especially in 3-dimensional imaging, have made it more ubiquitous. While 2-dimensional images require ideal lighting and the subject to be facing the camera, new technology can allow identification of someone turned 90 degrees from the camera.

It works by essentially mapping a person’s dominant facial features, such as eye shape and spacing, as well as jaw and nose lines. The software measures the distances between dozens of reference points, creating a unique profile similar to a fingerprint. The profile is then compared to the faces in existing databases, such as those that contain driver’s license, state ID, passport photos or police mugshots. More advanced programs can also conduct an analysis of skin texture to increase accuracy and, in some cases, account for different facial expressions, facial hair or eyeglasses.

China is currently experimenting with gait recognition technology, which can allow authorities to identify a person whose face is obscured by analyzing how he or she moves when walking. The proposed ordinance in Portland would not prohibit the use of gait recognition technology, but a resolution attached to it says facial recognition and “other biometric surveillance technology” pose a threat to civil liberties.

Facial recognition technology is used all over the world, with applications ranging from airport and border security to a soccer team in Denmark that uses it to identify unruly fans.

Perhaps the most extensive deployment is in China, where authorities are using it to monitor the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority ethnic population. The New York Times reported in April that the technology is being used to track the group’s movements and alert police if a large group appears in a certain location.

In the U.S., the technology has been used to screen passengers at airports, including Miami International Airport. The Boston Herald reported in April that JetBlue was using facial recognition rather than boarding passes.

Paul Bradbury, director of the Portland International Jetport, said that JetBlue and Delta are using the technology at other airports, but not here.

“The (Portland) Jetport does not use this technology, but some of our airline partners have commenced facial recognition projects at other airports,” Bradbury said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a report to Congress that it is working toward full deployment of the technology within the next four years “to account for over 90 percent of departing commercial air travelers from the United States.” That system is already being used to identify noncitizens who have overstayed their visas. It compares face scans at the airport to a database assembled from existing federal images, including from passports, visa applications or previous border encounters with the U.S Customs and Border Protection.

By the end of fiscal 2018, DHS said the technology was operational at 15 locations nationwide. Since its inception, over 2 million passengers on more than 15,000 flights have been scanned by the technology, which DHS says has a 98 percent match rate. And 7,000 people who have overstayed their visas have been biometrically confirmed. The U.S. Border Patrol also tested facial recognition technology at a Texas border crossing to identify people in vehicles moving under 20 mph.

In November, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking information about how facial recognition was being used in public surveillance. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration. It came after the agencies did not provide those documents in response to a public records request.

In the absence of federal laws governing facial recognition, some states and local municipalities are taking action to regulate the trend.

San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to ban use of the technology in May. Since then, Oakland, California, and Somerville, Massachusetts, have followed suit. And Cambridge, Massachusetts, is considering enacting a ban on use by its city government.

The state of California this fall passed a three-year ban on using facial recognition technology in police body cameras in the state. And Massachusetts, which the ACLU says has used facial recognition since at least 2006, is considering a moratorium on facial recognition and “other remote biometric surveillance systems.”

Police in Detroit, who are led by former Portland Police Chief James Craig, spent $1 million on facial recognition software and had been using the technology for a year and half before drafting a policy on its use. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has filed a public records request to learn more about how it is being used.

This fall, the board that oversees the Detroit police voted to restrict its use, prohibiting public surveillance and immigration checks that use the technology. The Detroit Free Press reported that facial recognition can only be used in response to violent crimes, including robbery, sexual assault, aggravated assault and homicide. One board member, Willie Burton, described the technology as “techno-racism.”

As momentum builds to restrict government uses of the technology, business groups and police associations are beginning to raise their voices to protect the ability to deploy it in the name of public safety.

In October, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with eight other technology, airport and security groups, sent a letter to Congress, urging it not to ban or pass any moratorium on the use of facial recognition. The group noted that the technology can enhance security and is becoming increasingly accurate.

“We are concerned that a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology would be premature and have unintended consequences not only for innovation, safety, and security but for the continued improvement of the technology’s accuracy and effectiveness,” the group said. “Instead, we urge Congress to collaborate with all stakeholders to address concerns raised by facial recognition technology and provide a consistent set of rules across the United States.”

A similar open letter to Congress was published in September by tech companies.

The letters came after a congressional hearing in May, during which concerns about the technology’s infringement on civil liberties were raised.

Among those to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was Joy Buolamwini, a graduate researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who founded a group named the Algorithmic Justice League in Cambridge after being misidentified by the technology.

“I established AJL to create a world with more ethical and inclusive technology after experiencing facial analysis software failing to detect my dark-skinned face until I put on a white mask,” she said in her written testimony. Buolamwini said her research showed that women of color in some cases were misidentified one-third of the time.

“Real-world failures and problematic deployments including mass state surveillance, false arrests, and the denial of working opportunities remind us of what is at stake in the absence of oversight and regulation,” she said. “Congress must act now to protect the public interest.”

Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ technology for liberty program, worked with Councilor Ali on Portland’s proposed ban.

“Face surveillance is dangerous when it works, and when it doesn’t,” Crockford said. “The government has no business using technology that can facilitate the mass tracking of our every movement in public space – every visit to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, a doctor’s office, city hall, or even just a friend’s house. But that’s exactly what this technology enables, in its most dangerous form.”

The Cumberland County Sheriff”s Office used facial recognition technology for a couple of years beginning in 2012 to compare investigative images to existing mugshots. But Sheriff Kevin Joyce said the technology only worked if they had a clear picture and the person was facing the camera. They were unable to use the technology to identify any robbery suspects because of either a poor picture quality or the camera angle.

Joyce said he hasn’t stayed up-to-date on the technology. But he cautioned against an outright ban, saying that it could be another tool, along with other investigatory work, to help police solve crimes.

“There are going to be crimes in the future that come up that we’d maybe solve a crime by having that facial recognition,” Joyce said. “If it’s used for criminal justice and solving crimes and used ethically, I don’t see there’s an issue with it. But it needs to be used ethically and correctly.”

In July, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that the state would not grant open-ended access to the state’s Real ID driver’s license database for investigations or facial recognition scans. However, the state will conduct specific searches on behalf of federal agencies if such a search is deemed appropriate.

Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said Maine law only allows the state to use biometric technology to issue licenses or state IDs – it does not allow them to conduct facial recognition searches for outside groups, such as local, state or federal law enforcement. Staff is currently working on legislation that would allow it to conduct those searches under certain circumstances, but she didn’t know whether it would be ready for the upcoming session.

Muszynski said the rules would likely mirror an existing policy for conducting searches of its old license and ID database, where police agencies submit a written request with a subject’s name and or address in order to get a photo to confirm an identity. The investigations unit of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles has processed 592 image requests this year, she said.

According to state records, the state has issued 17,815 driver’s licenses and 727 state identification cards since July 1 when it began using Real ID, which can be used for facial recognition searches.

Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, said she would like to see the state enact a moratorium on facial recognition so policies can be drafted, similar to the way the state handled police use of drones several years ago.

“No government agency should be deploying this technology without clear guidelines around protecting people’s constitutional freedoms and preventing abuse,” said Bellows, a former ACLU of Maine director. “One of my biggest concerns is that this technology can be used for massive, warrantless surveillance of public activities on a scale that we haven’t seen before.”

In Portland, some city councilors are looking to get ahead of the curve.

The ban proposed by Ali and Batson states that it is intended to “protect the privacy and civil liberties of residents.” In addition to frequently misidentifying women, young people and people of color, the councilors say the technology “may chill the exercise of free speech in public places” and “corrupt the core purpose of officer-worn body cameras by transforming those devices from transparency and accountability tools into roving surveillance systems.”

The council could vote on the ban Monday night. But some councilors have already expressed an interest in either referring the ban to a committee for additional work or to a council workshop for further discussion before voting.

City Councilor Kimberly Cook said she supports the proposal and that it would require city officials to seek permission from the council to use the technology, rather than allowing staff to implement it on their own. Cook also said the council should be playing a larger policy-setting role in the city’s entire smart-city initiative.

“To the extent that city staff are pursuing these initiatives, they should bring them to the council for consideration and guidance about whether this is a priority for the city,” Cook said. “So far, I have not been seeing that happen with smart-city technology,” including automated vehicles.

City Councilor Jill Duson said she plans to ask councilors to refer the ban to a committee because she would rather see an ordinance that’s tailored to Portland than simply adopting a standard ordinance used in other communities. Duson said she’d like the city to have a thorough discussion about facial recognition technology before setting a policy, much like it did with police body cameras.

“I would have real concerns about a precipitous ban,” she said. “But I also have concerns about precipitous implementation. For me, it has to be done in the context of our city.”

Maine Comedy: Conservative group takes aim at Congressman Jared Golden for backing impeachment inquiry

The Club for Growth wants to see a Republican defeat the first-term 2nd District Democratic congressman next year.

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As public impeachment hearings get underway in Washington, Maine’s junior congressman is under fire from a conservative political action committee targeting a handful of Democrats it sees as vulnerable on the issue.

The fiscally conservative Club for Growth released a digital advertising campaign this week calling the hearings “a distraction from the real issues facing everyday Americans” and urging Mainers to phone 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jared Golden to tell him to stop efforts to impeach President Donald Trump.

Golden, who defeated an incumbent Republican last year, has repeatedly said he is focused on the issues that matter most to Mainers, especially jobs and health care.

“While the investigation continues,” Golden said in a prepared statement, “I will remain committed to the work the people of my state sent me to Congress to do.”

The Club for Growth has endorsed one of Golden’s three Republican challengers, Eric Brakey of Auburn, and poured money into his campaign.

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Eric Brakey, Maine State Senate Candidate, Defends Swimsuit Dancing (2006) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/eric-brakey-maine_n_3714807

Eric Brakey

@SenatorBrakey

As the public witch hunt begins today, here is the question I will be seeking an answer for:

Why is it not in the national interest to investigate Joe Biden’s corruption in Ukraine?

It lists Golden’s turf as “a top Republican and conservative pick-up opportunity” in next year’s congressional elections because Trump won the district by 10% in 2016.

The Club for Growth cited Golden this week as one of five freshmen lawmakers it hopes to unseat. It named four others earlier.

In the group’s advertisement, it calls the hearings a “sham impeachment” that is evidence that “socialists have driven the Democratic Party over the cliff.”

The House impeachment inquiry got underway after a September a whistleblower report raised the issue of Trump seeking to force the Ukrainian president to announce an investigation into a Democratic opponent’s son.

Golden initially steered clear of the issue, but endorsed rules for the inquiry recently after seeing initial evidence that he said was worth investigating.

The other freshmen lawmakers targeted by the group, all Democrats, are Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood of Illinois, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Ben McAdams of Utah, Abigal Spanberger of Virginia, Xochitl Torres of New Mexico and California’s Katie Porter and Harley Rouda.

Brakey, a former state senator and last year’s unsuccessful GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, faces two challengers in a June primary: Adrienne Bennett of Bangor, who served as press secretary for Gov. Paul LePage, and Dale Crafts of Lisbon, a former legislator.