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Suit cites state surveillance law, says feds can use police live-stream to track protesters

JONATHAN HOUSE - Protesters hide behind a shield wall as federal agents fire crowd control munitions down SW Salmon Street after a rally on July 25 turned unruly.The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon on Wednesday, July 29, sued the Portland Police Bureau in Multnomah Circuit Court over the police practice of live-streaming protests downtown, saying it violates a state law prohibiting the collection of information about political beliefs or activities.

While the city has not been archiving the videos, the ACLU notes that the federal government can, saying the practice "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."

The law in question, ORS 181A.250, states that no government agency may "collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, group, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership unless such information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities, and there are reasonable grounds to suspect the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct."

Some in the bureau have framed the live-stream as a measure of transparency. Privately, other police officers say they have struggled to get their message out that the protests are not as peaceful as they've been portrayed — citing arsons and numerous attacks on police officers with rocks, ball bearings from slingshots and other objects. The live-stream amounts to the bureau's attempt to better spread that message.

But the ACLU says that is not a legitimate reason.

"Unlawful police surveillance threatens our First Amendment rights," said Jann Carson, interim executive director of the group. "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 ACLU notes that it entered into a settlement agreement in 1988 with the PPB to stop surveillance of protesters.

It also points to a Portland Tribune series in 2002 based on secret records showing widespread surveillance of everyone from former Mayor Vera Katz and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon to Sisters of the Road Cafe and neighborhood activist-turned-city taxi regulator Frank Dufay.

The attorneys handling the case on behalf of ACLU are Edward Piper, Ursula Lalovic and Joanna Perini-Abbott of Angeli Law Group, as well as sole practitioner Alan Kessler and the ACLU's Kelly Simon.

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