Political Speech | Protest | Surveillance

ACLU of Oregon Sues Portland Police For Livestreaming Protests

People shine cellphone flashlights during a demonstration against racial inequality and police violence in Portland, Oregon, U.S., July 29, 2020. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon is suing the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) over its practice of using livestream video to monitor individuals participating in the Black Lives Matter protests.  

Filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court on July 29th, the lawsuit claims that the filming of demonstrators violates a state law (ORS 181A.250) that prohibits collecting information about the political, religious, or social views of an individual or group who are not suspected of criminal activity. 

The lawsuit also claims the livestreaming practice violates a civil settlement agreement reached between the ACLU and the PPB in 1988. In the agreement, the ACLU promised not to litigate over “the collection of information by [police] at demonstrations” so long as the police adopted a formal policy prohibiting surveillance of demonstrators unless they had reasonable grounds to suspect the subject had been engaged in criminal conduct. 

“PPB’s practice of livestreaming videos of protesters amounts to a violation of ORS 181A.250 and to a breach of the Agreement,” the ACLU lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of an unidentified protester who was captured in police footage that was livestreamed while he/she demonstrated outside a police station on July 13th.  

The police claim that they are using these videos to produce “situational awareness” about the protests, and to record possible criminal activity. Videos that contain evidence of criminal activity are forwarded to the District Attorney’s office, according to the ACLU’s complaint.

In a statement to The Oregonian, Jann Carson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, the police’s livestreaming practice threatens individuals’ First Amendment rights.  

“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,” Carson told the newspaper.

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