Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

'We have serious questions for Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum: How did this happen? At whose direction? How long has this been going on and how many Oregonians have been caught up in this likely illegal surveillance? How can we ensure that this will not happen again?' (Image: ACLU)

Black Lives Matter Supporters in Oregon Targeted by State Surveillance

David Rogers

 by Speak Freely / ACLU

On Tuesday of this week, it was revealed that the Criminal Justice Division of the Oregon Department of Justice has secretly surveilled Oregonians who use the Black Lives Matter hashtag — including the state’s own director of civil rights, Erious Johnson. This is deeply disturbing and offensive — and it is a serious threat to our democracy. 

Surveilling people based on their political ideas undercuts the fundamental freedoms that our country was founded on. If people can be targeted for speech and activities protected by the First Amendment, then they will be reluctant to speak or write openly about their beliefs. And let’s not miss that this surveillance is targeting people who use  #BlackLivesMatter on social media throws open the door to racial profiling because the movement is Black-led.

We have serious questions for Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum: How did this happen? At whose direction? How long has this been going on and how many Oregonians have been caught up in this likely illegal surveillance? How can we ensure that this will not happen again?

Political, racial, or religious minorities cannot enjoy the equality and dignity afforded them by the Constitution when they are routinely subjected to discriminatory profiling and surveillance by the government. History has taught us that many levels of government employ invasive, and at times unconstitutional, surveillance tactics. Now, it seems the Oregon’s own Justice Department  is also involved in unconstitutional surveillance of its citizens.

The government has a long history of targeting activists. Ninety years ago, it was foreign "subversives" and labor organizers. Sixty years ago, the targets were government employees, entertainers, writers, and academics suspected of being Communist "sympathizers." In the  ’60s and ’70s, the targets were anti-war protestors and civil rights activists. Post 9/11, the targets were Muslims, people of Middle Eastern and Arab descent, and “radical” environmentalists. And now the Black Lives Matter movement is the latest target

This is not the first time law enforcement in Oregon has been caught surveilling innocent people. In the 1970s, we uncovered Portland Police investigations of the ACLU of Oregon and many other nonprofits and community groups. This discovery led us to help pass a law in 1981 — the only law of its kind in the country — that prohibits our state and local police from collecting information about the political, religious, or social views of any individual or group unless that information directly relates to a criminal investigation.

Having a good law on the books is clearly not enough. We need meaningful oversight of law enforcement intelligence activities to make sure these important safeguards for our freedoms won’t be ignored again. The simple act of expressing concern about racial justice on social media should not be enough to trigger information gathering by the Oregon Department of Justice. (I can’t believe I had to just write that sentence.)

We hope this situation is limited in scope and the revelation allows our state attorney general to make reforms that prevent this from ever happening again. Although we hope for the best outcome possible, we are not waiting on the sidelines to see what happens. 

We signed on to a letter from the Urban League of Portland and others encouraging Oregon’s Attorney General to take immediate action and support a full and transparent investigation into these activities. Oregonians need to know the full extent of the state’s involvement in this likely illegal and racially based surveillance. In addition to calling for an investigation, we are preparing to file records requests we hope will help reveal the scope of the program and who else has been caught up in this dragnet. 


© 2021 ACLU

David Rogers

David Rogers is the executive director of ACLU of Oregon.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

ACLU Demands 'Truly Systemic Overhaul' of US Civilian Harm Policies

"While a serious Defense Department focus on civilian harm is long overdue and welcome, it's unclear that this directive will be enough," says director of the legal group's National Security Project.

Jessica Corbett ·


'This Is Not Over': Alaska Supreme Court Rejects Youth Climate Case

"With the state continuing to undermine their health, safety, and futures," said the plaintiffs' lead counsel, "we will evaluate our next steps and will continue to fight for climate justice."

Jessica Corbett ·


Analysis Finds 'Staggering' Rise in Voter Suppression After GOP Restrictions in Georgia

"This is why we are fighting this new law in court," said one voting rights advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Egregious': Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Mail-In Voting Law

The ruling was stayed pending an appeal to the state's Supreme Court and as one voting advocate put it: "The fight's not over yet, folks."

Julia Conley ·


Big Win for Open Internet as Court Upholds California Net Neutrality Law

One legal advocate called the Ninth Circuit's opinion "a great decision and a major victory for internet users in California and nationwide."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo