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Oregon Orders A Stop To Surveillance Of Black Lives Matter Supporters

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

People tweeting under the hashtag "Black Lives Matter" were monitored by the Oregon Department of Justice. The news came to light this week after the Urban League of Portland complained about the move, calling it potentially illegal. Organ Public Broadcasting's Conrad Wilson reports.

CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: The Urban League of Portland sent a letter to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum accusing her agency of conducting digital surveillance on people who use the hashtag "Black Lives Matter." That monitoring was part of a threat assessment. Rosenblum says she first heard about the incident two weeks ago, was appalled, and ordered it to stop.

ELLEN ROSENBLUM: My understanding is that there was - that this was a search for threats against the police, or anti-police types of sentiment.

WILSON: Rosenblum says someone in her office was apparently using a trial version of an online tool called Digital Stakeout to search hashtags in Salem, Oregon. She said she couldn't comment on the motivations of the employee involved.

ROSENBLUM: They had connected certain hashtags - this is one of them, one of the number of them - to what they believed to include threats to the police.

WILSON: In fact, one of the DOJ's own employees, its director of civil rights, was among those whose data was collected. He's married to the head of the Urban League of Portland. Attorney General Rosenblum says she's put at least put one employee on paid administrative leave and started an internal investigation. News of the surveillance comes as Rosenblum is heading a statewide task force to implement a law that prohibits profiling by law enforcement. Nicole Brown is the field director at the Center for Intercultural Organizing, which signed on to the Urban League's letter of complaint. She says the incident raises a lot of questions.

NICOLE BROWN: We are deeply troubled by what happened, and we think that it's a serious issue and shows how profiling is a problem at the highest and most systemic levels.

WILSON: But Brown says she has faith in the investigation. David Rogers is the executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, which also signed on to the letter.

DAVID ROGERS: Government spying of lawful advocacy groups, whatever their focus, is often designed to provide a chilling effect and to discredit their activism and their speech.

WILSON: Rogers points out it's also illegal for state law enforcement to collect information about people's religious, social, and political views. For NPR News, I'm Conrad Wilson in Portland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.