Judge: Portland Police violated law by filming protesters

Protests

Court ruling in ACLU lawsuit finds police videos amounted to illegal surveillance during protests.

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN – Police stand guard outside the Multnomah County Justice Center during a Black Lives Matter protest on July 17, 2020.

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge ruled Monday, Sept. 20, that Portland police officers’ filming and live streaming at protest events in 2020 violated Oregon law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed a lawsuit July 29, 2020, against the city of Portland for the Portland Police Bureau’s habit of livestreaming footage of protesters for use internally and in feeds to the public. Earlier this week, a judge found that the practice violated state law and a 1988 agreement between the ACLU of Oregon and the Portland Police Bureau that stipulates the bureau won’t “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.”

The video broadcasting was halted last year, when the court issued a temporary restraining order against the Police Bureau.

As Pamplin Media Group reported at the time the lawsuit was filed, the city did not archive the videos captured during protests, but the video footage meant federal law enforcement agencies could, leaving protesters subject to surveillance by federal law enforcement agencies.

“PPB has offered varying rationales for livestreaming videos of protesters,” the ACLU lawsuit states. “Its policies say that it does so to provide ‘situational awareness’ and to record possible criminal activity. … However, in a separate email, a Senior Deputy City Attorney wrote that PPB had livestreamed one video not to provide ‘situational awareness,’ but rather ‘so the community could understand what was occurring at the protest.'”

Upon the filing of its lawsuit in 2020, the ACLU said the existing Oregon law that prohibits law enforcement agencies from “spying” on residents is an important safeguard against police abuses of power.

Marie Tyvoll is a plaintiff in the case, identified in the legal filing only as “protester #1.” Tyvoll said the police broadcasts put protesters at risk.

“When I showed up to support Black Lives at a protest, I did not expect that the police would invest so much time, money, and energy in broadcasting my face over the Internet,” Tyvoll said. “Standing up to injustice is important to me; having my own government deliberately put me at risk for broadcasting my location and political stance — known as ‘doxing’—is unbelievable. In a time when extremists and hate groups violently attack activists, I am grateful that the Court saw how harmful this practice is and chose to put a permanent stop to it.”

Kelly Simon, legal director for ACLU Foundation of Oregon, said Judge Thomas Ryan’s ruling solidifies Oregonians’ right to protest without fear of government surveillance.

“We are pleased that Judge Ryan was willing to apply Oregon law in a common sense way to protect our right to protest without fear of government surveillance or government-supported doxing. This should put all Oregon law enforcement agencies on notice that police have no business filming, photographing or otherwise collecting information on protesters. Protest is fundamental to democracy. Protest is not a crime. Period.”

The Portland City Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

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