Privacy & Technology

“The progress of science in furnishing the Government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wiretapping. Ways may someday be developed by which the Government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home…Can it be that the Constitution affords no protection against such invasions of individual security?”
-- Louis Brandeis
U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Olmstead v. United States, (1928)

The word "privacy" means many different things to different people. One widely accepted meaning is "the right to be let alone," as it was described by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.

The United States is at risk of turning into a full-fledged surveillance society. From using the telephone to seeking medical treatment to applying for a job or sending e-mail over the Internet, our right to information privacy is in peril. Our personal and business information is being digitized through an ever-expanding number of computer networks in formats that allow data to be linked, transferred, shared and sold, usually without our knowledge or consent. Employers and schools are turning to drug testing policies without any reasonable suspicions of illegal drug use. DNA has the power to disclose not only private personal and medical information about any individual but also blood-relatives. The use of DNA is expanding as a tool for crime-solving and has also been used to exonerate the innocent. The same technological advances that have brought enormous benefits also make us more vulnerable than ever before to unwanted snooping.

As technology provides new ways to gather information and databases proliferate, the need for privacy protections becomes more urgent. The ACLU is a national leader in working to guarantee that individuals may determine how and when others can gain access to their personal information.


First Appeals Court Hearing to Address Mass Surveillance

ACLU Challenges Warrantless "Backdoor" Searches

July 6, 2016 - For the first time, a federal appeals court heard oral argument on the merits in a case challenging the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international communications conducted under Section 702 of FISA, which allows the NSA to engage in warrantless surveillance of Americans who communicate with tens of thousands of targets located abroad.

In 2012, Mohammed Mohamud, a Somalia-born naturalized U.S. citizen, was convicted of plotting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. After his conviction, the government belatedly notified Mohamud that it had relied on Section 702 surveillance to obtain his communications without a warrant in the course of its investigation. Mohamud argued that the resulting evidence should have been suppressed and asked for a new trial. His challenge to the surveillance is now on appeal.

The American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, U.S. v. Mohamud, and were granted time to argue at the hearing today. 


Gresham Cop Snatches Phone From Observer During Live Broadcast

Police Violated Free Speech and Free Press Rights During Unlawful Search and Detention of Livestreamer

February 11, 2015 - Carrie Medina firmly believes that police should always act as they would if they knew there was a camera on them. She made it a point to film police encounters she witnessed.

In February 2013, while riding the bus home from work, she heard someone exclaim, “Ooh, that must’ve hurt!” and looked outside to see two police officers arresting a young man. She got off the bus to observe the police activity and started a livestream video with her phone. Watch the video.

Medina was no stranger to livestreaming. She got her start during the Occupy Portland protests and had soon gathered a group of dedicated viewers. With donations from her supporters to help cover expenses, she had also traveled to protests in D.C. and Chicago to livestream video.

“Livestreamers” have played an important role in recent protests both by attracting large audiences in real time and also by capturing moments that can go “viral” afterwards. For example, over 750,000 viewers tuned in live to see the violent eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protestors. And recently in Ferguson, Missouri, livestreaming journalists shared video of the militarized police response toward protestors that shocked the nation.

By the time Carrie Medina was off the bus and in place to video, the young man being arrested was already in handcuffs. She stood several yards away broadcasting and narrating the events. She started to feel that the police were paying her a lot of attention and she backed even further away. That’s when Officer Letsis walked up to her and asked to see her video.



PRIVACY: Regulate Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) surveillance technology (SB 639)

Law enforcement agencies deploy license plate reader surveillance technology in Oregon without adequate or consistent privacy restrictions. Many agencies retain the location information and photograph of every vehicle that crosses the camera’s path, not simply those that are associated with a criminal nexus.


PRIVACY: Prohibit Unwarranted Access to Electronic Communications and Location Information (SB 640)

Electronic communication – through email, cell phones and social media – has increasingly eclipsed postal mail and other hard-copy methods as our primary means of communication. Unfortunately, some government agencies interpret our outdated privacy laws to allow them to intercept and access a treasure trove of information about who you are, where you go, and what you do – the information being collected by search engines, social networking sites, and other websites every day.



Portland Police Body Camera Policy is Critical for Accountability

body cam imageOctober 4, 2016 -  The Portland City Council will soon vote on whether to ratify an agreement with the Portland Police Association about a new police union contract and a draft body camera policy. The agreement creates a serious risk that body cameras will not serve as a tool for accountability in Portland by giving the Portland Police Association too much power over the contents of the body camera policy. Because of this, and concerns that the public was shut out of negotiations over the police union contract, we have asked the Portland City Council not to ratify the agreement. 

Police body cameras have the potential to serve as a much-needed police oversight tool, but if the technology is to be effective at providing oversight, reducing police abuses, and increasing community trust, it is vital that the cameras be deployed with good policies to ensure they accomplish those goals. Without good policies, body cameras risk becoming just another police surveillance device—and one with very real potential to invade privacy.


Records Requests Filed Regarding DOJ Surveillance of Black Lives Matter

By Mat dos Santos, Legal Director 
Black Lives Matter protestorNovember 13, 2015 – Yesterday, the ACLU of Oregon filed records requests to the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ), Oregon’s Titan Fusion Center, and the United States Department of Justice, including the FBI. We are seeking information regarding the extent of the DOJ's surveillance including questions about the technology that was used, what information was collected, and who was profiled by the department.

In an interview with OPB this week, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum confirmed that a DOJ investigator used an online, subscription-based tool called “Digital Stakeout.” The Digital Stakeout website touts its product as a threat intelligence platform and says users can “search by keyword, hashtag, location, meta-data and more.” Rosenblum revealed that in addition to searching for Black Lives Matter, other searches were performed, including searches for the hashtag, ‘F - the police.’

As these statements reveal, this was more than just a search of hashtags on the internet. We have some preliminary answers, but we also have many more questions. Why was a Black-led social movement used as a jumping-off point for ‘anti-police sentiment’? How did the investigation of the DOJ’s own Civil Rights Division director go so far? Who else was swept up in this dragnet?