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An Internal Report on Oregon’s Illegal Surveillance of Black Lives Matter on Twitter Leaves Us With More Questions Than Answers

Protesters: The ACLU Response to Ferguson
Protesters: The ACLU Response to Ferguson
David Rogers,
Executive Director,
ACLU of Oregon
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April 18, 2016

This blog originally appeared on the ACLU of Oregon’s website.

Last week a report on the surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon was released by the Oregon Department of Justice.

The report confirmed what we learned back in November: That an agent who works for the Criminal Division of DOJ was testing a surveillance program, called Digital Stakeout, by searching various key words, including #BlackLivesMatter. The agent then mistook posts from DOJ’s own director of civil rights, including a post of the logo of the legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy and political cartoons, as a threat to law enforcement and wrote a memo that was passed all the way up the chain of command to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum before it was, finally, rejected as dangerous, racial profiling. The attorney general hired an outside attorney to conduct an independent investigation of the matter to determine if policies or laws were violated.

In other words, the law that prohibits law enforcement from surveilling innocent Oregonians was broken.

After reading through the report and looking through the exhibits, we are left with more questions than answers. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at the lack of awareness that was revealed of both the law and of what might constitute a threat. This is not only shameful, but also dangerous. Given the power that they wield, I am dismayed at the state of the Criminal Justice Division and afraid for the Oregonians that are supposed to be protected by them. Self-reinforced bias — against protesters, black people, and who knows who else — has left the agency ill-equipped to do their job.

While the report falls short in several areas, one thing it does conclude is that this agent was “not in compliance” with state law. In other words, the law that prohibits law enforcement from surveilling innocent Oregonians was broken.

We still do not know who else was caught up in this illegal dragnet. From the little we have learned, it doesn’t seem possible that this was an isolated incident when it is clear that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the law. Not only is this ineffective law enforcement. It will also have a chilling effect on free speech and assembly, as Oregonians will rightfully wonder whether they are also being monitored. If the attorney general’s office is getting it wrong — when they are the ones charged with enforcing the laws of Oregon — then we must assume that other law enforcement are engaging in illegal surveillance too.

This glimpse into the inner workings of the Oregon Department of Justice has revealed severe problems. Attorney General Rosenblum has a formidable task ahead of her to fix these problems and to regain the public’s trust.

This post is part of a series exploring what we have learned about the DOJ surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon. Click here to see all of our posts on this topic.

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