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ACLU of Oregon files lawsuit against Portland, PPB over video livestreams of protests

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Portland, Ore. July 29, 2020 5 p.m.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the city of Portland for the Portland Police Bureau’s use of livestreaming the ongoing demonstrations in downtown Portland.

The ACLU of Oregon’s lawsuit states that PPB has used its video livestreams as a form of surveillance over Portland demonstrators who are continuing to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

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Related: ACLU of Oregon sues federal agencies over use of force against journalists, legal observers

“Oregon is not a surveillance state,” the lawsuit states. “With this action, [the ACLU of Oregon] seeks to eliminate a practice by the City of Portland and the Portland Police Bureau that threatens to turn it into one.”

A sticker covers the nametag of a Portland police officer during protests against police brutality and systemic racism in Portland, Ore., June 15, 2020.

A sticker covers the nametag of a Portland police officer during protests against police brutality and systemic racism in Portland, Ore., on June 15, 2020.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

The ACLU of Oregon filed the lawsuit on behalf of itself and an unnamed protester referred to as “Protester #1″ in court documents.

The lawsuit states Protester #1 has been a part of downtown Portland demonstrations regularly, standing in front of PPB officers.

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“During the protest, a PPB camera captured Protester #1′s image, which it livestreamed publicly on the internet,” the lawsuit states. “At the time, Protester #1 was not aware that PPB was filming the crowd. Had Protester #1 known of PPB’s filming, Protester #1 would not have consented to it.”

The lawsuit states that PPB has offered “varying rationales” for its livestreaming practices, including broadcasting video to PPB facilities in order to provide “situational awareness” to officers, as well as to record possible criminal activity. However, according to court documents, Senior Deputy City Attorney Jennifer Johnston wrote that PPB livestreamed one video, not for that purpose, but rather “so the community could understand what was occurring at the protest.”

Regardless, the ACLU of Oregon said, “the videos regularly depict individual protestors [sic] who are demonstrating peacefully and engaging in no criminal activity at all.”

A subsection of the crowd marches toward the Marriott hotel in downtown Portland, Ore., July 25, 2020. Portland has sustained protests against police brutality and systemic racism for 58 days.

A subsection of the crowd marches toward the Marriott hotel in downtown Portland, Ore., July 25, 2020. Portland has sustained protests against police brutality and systemic racism for 58 days.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

The city has confirmed that its livestreams do not relate to a criminal investigation, the lawsuit states, nor does it have reasonable grounds to suspect that the people and groups being recorded are involved in criminal conduct.

The ACLU of Oregon states that PPB is violating an Oregon law that prohibits law enforcement from collecting and maintaining data on people based on their religious, political or social activities when those people are not suspected of any criminal activity. The organization said it and PPB reached a civil settlement agreement in 1988 in regard to that law, in which PPB agreed it would comply.

The organization is asking a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge to prohibit the city, and specifically PPB, from livestreaming or recording video or audio of demonstrators, except in a criminal investigation or with reasonable suspicion of criminal activities.

Related: ACLU of Oregon sues Portland, federal officers in defense of volunteer protest medics

“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,” Kelly Simon, interim legal director of the ACLU of Oregon, said in a statement.

This is the third lawsuit the ACLU of Oregon has filed against the city of Portland related to ongoing demonstrations. Its other two lawsuits are representing volunteer protest medics and journalists and legal observers.

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