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Oregon Department Of Justice Investigated Tweets Of Black Lives Matter Supporters

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 12/11/2015 Matt Ferner

An Oregon Department of Justice investigator conducted digital surveillance on supporters of Black Lives Matter, searching the movement's well-known hashtag as part of a threat assessment investigation, state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum revealed in a letter Tuesday.

"When I initially heard about this incident I was appalled," Rosenblum said in her letter, which was in response to an earlier letter from the Portland chapter of the national civil rights organization the Urban League. The civil rights group sought an investigation into allegations that the state DOJ was digitally surveilling Oregonians for use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on social media. Rosenblum confirmed an investigator in the Criminal Justice Division had conducted such an investigation.

Ironically, during the course of the DOJ social media investigation, Rosenblum said, a senior member of her own office was profiled by the action -- Erious Johnson, director of civil rights for the state justice department. Johnson is married to Urban League of Portland president Nkenge Harmon Johnson, who sent the original letter to Rosenblum's office.

Rosenblum explains in her letter that the DOJ investigator was using an "online search tool on a trial basis" to search selected Twitter hashtags in a specific geographical area, one of which was #BlackLivesMatter. The results of that search were provided to a member of Rosenblum's staff, who then alerted the AG.

Upon discovering the social media search, Rosenblum immediately ordered the Criminal Justice Division to stop using any such online search tool. She also shared the information with Johnson. 

"It is improper, and potentially unlawful, for the Oregon Department of Justice to conduct surveillance and investigations on an Oregonian merely for expressing a viewpoint, or for being a part of a social movement," the letter from Urban League of Portland reads. "We are concerned that such unwarranted investigations are racially motivated, and create a chilling effect on social justice advocates, political activists and others who wish to engage in discourse about the issues of our time."

Additional signees of the Urban League letter included members of local chapters of the NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union and the AFL-CIO.

One Criminal Justice Division employee was placed on administrative leave while the matter is fully investigated, and Rosenblum said that she is prepared to take further "personnel actions" based on the findings of the ongoing investigation.

"On a personal note," Rosenblum concludes her letter, "I have now seen firsthand how devastating profiling can be -- written on the face of a member of my own team. It must not continue."

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