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Spying on Black Lives Matter|Recalls Days of FBI Snooping

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - The Oregon attorney general's apology to her civil rights director for her office's spying on his #BlackLivesMatter Twitter feed was not enough for some groups, who want a criminal investigation of it.

General Ellen Rosenblum told Oregon Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Director Erious Johnson on Oct. 27 that the Criminal Justice Division had been using "threat assessment" software to search the Twitter feeds of Oregon activists for the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

Johnson's own Twitter feed had been turned up by the surveillance, Rosenblum told him.

An investigator in the Criminal Justice Division used software called DigitalStakeout to search for people who used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and the hashtags #DontShootPDX and #FuckthePolice.

DigitalStakeout says on its website that the software "offers a cloud-based threat intelligence platform that mines the web in real time and reveals what matters. Acquire the insights you need to manage cyber risk and mitigate threats."

Rosenblum would not reveal the identity of her employee who used the software, but said it appeared he was using a "demo tool" on a trial basis. She said she ordered the surveillance stopped immediately and suspended the investigator.

Nkenge Harmon Johnson, the head of Portland's Urban League and Johnson's wife, sent a letter to Rosenblum asking for an audit to reveal the origin, scope and purpose of the threat assessment program; what happened to the information it collected; and whether the Criminal Justice Division was properly trained or supervised to avoid racial bias. Harmon Johnson asked that the results of the audit be made public by Dec. 31.

Harmon Johnson said the audit should be "conducted by an entity accepted by the undersigned," which included representatives for the AFL-CIO, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, the Center for Intercultural Organizing, and Oregon's branches of the ACLU and the NAACP.

Rosenblum responded the same day in a letter to the Urban League, saying she took the issue seriously.

"I have now seen firsthand how devastating profiling can be - written on the face of a member of my team," Rosenblum wrote.

Harmon Johnson said she also wanted an apology and disclosure to all Oregonians who were ensnared in the surveillance, and asked Rosenblum to add digital surveillance recommendations as part of the profiling task force.

The Law Enforcement Profiling Task Force, which Rosenbaum heads, is charged with providing a list of recommendations to the legislature so that it can enact a law extending the ban of profiling to more groups on Jan. 1.

The task force met Tuesday to compile its final recommendations.

Rosenbaum began the meeting with an apology to Erious Johnson.

"This is, in my view, exactly what our profiling laws are meant to prevent. Black Lives Matter is a social and political movement, protected by the First Amendment. Association with Black Lives Matter does not create violence and does not deserve intrusion by the state."

She added, "I want to take this opportunity to state publicly that profiling is real. It is happening now. And the effects of it are toxic."

"Erious, I'm very sorry that this happened," she continued. "And we are going to get to the bottom of this."

"Cool," Johnson said.


Rosenblum appointed Stoel Rives attorney Carolyn Walker a special assistant attorney general to investigate the Criminal Justice Division's use of the threat assessment software. The investigation could cost as much as $88,000, according to Stoel Rives' contract .

Harmon Johnson criticized Rosenblum's choice of investigators, saying Rosenblum should have ordered a criminal investigation, rather than appointing Walker, who specializes in employment law.

Mat dos Santos, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, disagreed.

"We think that the engagement of Stoel Rives and the investigation as set up by the attorney general is a step in the right direction," dos Santos said. "While there is something we'd like to see the Department of Justice address, including transparency and scope, this may get us there. It seems too soon for a criminal investigation. And there would be potential drawbacks like secrecy and the whole grand jury process at might actually inhibit the public from knowing what was going on.

"We think this may be a better way of addressing the issues of broken trust," he added. "A key component of restoring public trust is going to be transparency, and a criminal investigation may inhibit that. Which isn't to say that a criminal investigation is off the table, if it turns out that there were legal violations."

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request and a public records request last week, asking to see all of the department's social media data on people using the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter, #DontShootPDX and #FuckthePolice, and any variation on those hashtags, or any other "hashtag, phrase, word, or search term reflecting a political, religious, or social view."

The ACLU also asked for information on the department's collection and analysis of social media data, including its use of the program DigitalStakeout, information on "all agreements between the department and any local, county, state or federal agency pertaining to the monitoring, collection, analysis of information or data from social media."

And the ACLU asked for all the information that the department collected on Erious Johnson and on Teressa Raiford, leader of Don't Shoot PDX, a group affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The department has not announced whether it collected information on Raiford, who was arrested this year on anniversary of the police killing of Michael Brown.

Dos Santos said the request was an attempt to confirm whether Raiford's arrest was part of an organized sweep of arrests across the country that day that targeted the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"We want to make sure that that arrest was done in conjunction with other arrests that happened that same day of protesters arrested with BLM protests," dos Santos said. "I've heard from defense attorneys that there was a coordinated effort of the FBI."

There is evidence that what happened at the Oregon Department of Justice could be a nationwide problem.

In June, public records requests revealed that the Department of Homeland Security was using social media to monitor Black Lives Matter activists in Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and New York.

The Department of Homeland Security in April released documents outlining its Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Program.

The DHS said it searches for specific hashtags to learn about protest movements such as Black Lives Matter, but claimed it does not collect or store information that could be used to individually identify people. It said it uses hashtags and keyword searches, but does not monitor individual social media accounts.

Racial profiling is banned in Oregon - and that's exactly what the Oregon Department of Justice's Twitter surveillance could be considered, dos Santos said.

"We have to remember that the Black Lives Matter movement is specifically concerned with communities of color and racial profiling and police abuse," dos Santos said.

"So when we look at the use of the Black Lives Matter hashtag as a jumping-off point for a criminal investigation, we can say that the general Twitter users of that hashtag are going to be black," he added. "I don't have the numbers, but I think we can pretty comfortably say that when you are surveilling a black-led movement you are going to disproportionately get communities of color."

Some civil libertarians say the revelations bring back memories of Cointelpro, short for Counterintelligence Program, the FBI surveillance program that infiltrated political movements of the 1960s and 1970s, including the Black Panther Party and opponents of the Vietnam war.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover used Cointelpro to conduct illegal surveillance and ordered his agents to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, neutralize or otherwise eliminate" perceived threats, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"I think that Cointelpro is a good example of why this kind of surveillance is problematic," dos Santos said. "And there have been more recent examples. In 2010, we know the Oregon Department of Justice was surveilling leaders of Albina Ministerial Alliance and other black leadership organizations in Portland. The only reason the AMA found out was someone in the Department of Justice leaked that info."

The Albina Ministerial Alliance is a black-led community organization that was active in calling for the firing of Portland police Officer Ron Frashour after the fatal January 2010 shooting of Aaron Campbell. Frashour shot Campbell, who was unarmed and suicidal, as Campbell walked backward toward officers with his hands behind his head.

"Oregon agencies have a pretty checkered history of surveilling communities of color," dos Santos said. "We think it's time for that to stop."

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