PORTLAND—The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and “Protester #1” today sued the Portland Police Bureau to stop police livestreaming of protests. The ACLU of Oregon says the Portland Police Bureau’s practice of filming and broadcasting protesters violates an Oregon State law (ORS 181A.250) prohibiting police from collecting or maintaining information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of people who are not suspected of criminal activity.

“Instead of monitoring protesters, Portland Police should focus its energies on heeding their messages: Black Lives Matter, racist police brutality must end, and it’s time to reimagine public safety,” said Kelly Simon, interim legal director of the ACLU of Oregon.

The ACLU of Oregon says the state law that prohibits law enforcement from spying on Oregonians is an important safeguard against police abuses, and PPB’s practice of livestreaming leaves Oregonians engaging in protected First Amendment activities subject to surveillance by federal law enforcement. The PPB livestream often zooms in on individual’s faces which makes protesters vulnerable to face surveillance technology.

“Unlawful police surveillance threatens our First Amendment rights,”  said Jann Carson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Oregon. “The Portland Police Bureau has no constitutional reason to train its video cameras on demonstrators — or to broadcast those images publicly on the internet, where federal agents and others can analyze them.”

The lawsuit was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Attorneys on the suit include Edward Piper, Ursula Lalović, and Joanna Perini-Abbott of Angeli Law Group LLC; Alan Lloyd Kessler; and Kelly Simon of the ACLU Foundation of Oregon.

A Troubling History of Surveillance of Protesters in Oregon

The Oregon law that prohibits police spying was passed in 1981 after it was revealed that Portland Police Bureau engaged in widespread surveillance of individuals and groups.  In 1988, the ACLU of Oregon and the Portland Police Bureau entered into a civil agreement to limit PPB’s collection of information of protesters, and to enshrine the state law into PPB policy.

In 2002, the Portland Tribune uncovered records revealing that the PPB engaged in widespread surveillance between 1965-1985 of over 3,000 individuals and groups including the ACLU of Oregon, American Indian Movement, Black United Front, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Gray Panthers, McKenzie River Gathering, NAACP, Oregon Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights, Planned Parenthood, Rape Relief Hotline, Sisters of the Road Cafe, United Farm Workers, and more.

Following 9/11, the City of Portland and other jurisdictions relied upon ORS 181A.250 in refusing to participate in the federal government’s round up of thousands of men because of their age and country of origin. Because the men targeted for questioning were not suspected of any criminal activity themselves and the questions probed their political, religious and associational beliefs and activities, Oregon law restricted local law enforcement from participating.

Oregon law enforcement continues to monitor Black and Indigenous movements throughout Oregon. For example in 2015, it was revealed that an analyst within the Oregon Department of Justice was monitoring social media posts with the hashtag BlackLivesMatter and BLM. And recent reporting by The Guardian and The Intercept uncovered the Coos County Sheriff's Office, in conjunction with the Oregon Titan Fusion Center, was engaged in disturbing, corporate-funded surveillance of activists speaking out against construction of the Jordan Cove Pipeline.

The 1998 agreement between the ACLU of Oregon and the Portland Police Bureau regarding the collection of information about protesters is online here: https://aclu-or.org/sites/default/files/1988_ppb_acluor_agreement.pdf.

A 2002 ACLU of Oregon briefing paper on the law is online here: https://aclu-or.org/sites/default/files/181575_Briefing_Paper_02.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3mdsa0WeeE273OI0DCm6HAmCJaSsAqiEvO15GqOTzUQeiLj_0DtidmdsA

The complaint is online here: https://aclu-or.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/acluor_portland_...