PORTLAND, Oregon — An investigation of social media surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists shows a pattern of systemic racism and disregard for the law, according to an Oregon civil rights group.
The comments from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon came in response to a report issued this month by the Oregon Department of Justice on the DOJ’s Criminal Justice Division’s monitoring of the social media use of Black Lives Matter activists.
“The report is damning,” wrote Mat dos Santos, the nonprofit’s legal director. “It paints an abysmal picture of rampant misinformation, beginning with agents and analysts and running all the way up to the deputy attorney general, and it shows how one mistake in judgment can lead to dangerous consequences for the public.”
Last year, a “threat assessment report” issued by an investigator at the state’s DOJ, singled out Facebook and Twitter users that used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag for surveillance. The investigation became so broad that one of the department’s own attorneys was cited in the report as a possible threat.
Ellen Rosenblum, the state’s attorney general, said she was “shocked and appalled” and called for a full investigation, according to a November article from The Oregonian.
The report released this month is the result of Rosenblum’s call for an investigation. It urges improvements in hiring and training practices at the Oregon DOJ, but dos Santos says it also reveals the department’s willingness to circumvent the law.
“Oregon law requires that there be credible criminal activity before any information is ever collected,” he noted, adding that it prohibits surveillance based solely on a person’s political or religious views.
However, a slide included in the report shows that officers are trained to circumvent this law. “Use creativity,” the slide advises police officers, “and articulate your reasonable suspicion in some way.” It notes that “a wide variety of crimes” could provide cops with the excuse they need to monitor a suspect.
“DOJ is training its agents to illegally collect whatever information it deems necessary and then look for criminal activity to shore up the collection effort,” dos Santos wrote.
He argued that the report also shows “that almost all of the [department’s] agents misunderstand federal and state laws prohibiting the surveillance of the public based on religious, political, or social views.”
The original threat assessment report was apparently prompted by a tweet. It read, “Consider yourselves…WARNED,” and was accompanied by the logo of Public Enemy, an influential 1990s hip hop group, which depicts a human figure centered in a set of gunsights.
David Rogers, the ACLU of Oregon’s executive director, told The Oregonian on April 12:
“I 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.”
He elaborated on his concerns in an April 13 blog post. “This situation may lead some to joke about how DOJ’s Criminal Justice Division needs training on basic hip hop history, but the DOJ report shows a very disturbing pattern,” Rogers wrote. “The Criminal Justice Division is in charge of identifying and assessing threats to the public and law enforcement, but their lack of diversity and cultural competency has them utterly disconnected to reality.”
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