New Laws Target and Punish the Poor in Oregon

By Heather Marek, Legal Intern

In recent years, poverty and homelessness have deepened throughout the country, and Oregon has not been immune. According to HUD, between 2014 and 2015, the number of homeless Oregonians increased nine percent, the third highest increase nationwide. In that same time, Oregon experienced the largest growth of any state in its chronically homeless population: sixty percent. Due to a severe shortage of affordable housing and the high number of residents with no place to call home, Oregon cities including Eugene and Portland have declared a housing and homelessness “state of emergency”.

In Oregon and elsewhere, the response to this crisis has been to further criminalize homelessness, making it against the law to engage in basic life-sustaining activities. Between 2011 and 2014, there was a spike in the number of cities nationwide that outlawed camping (60 percent), sleeping in vehicles (119 percent), sitting or lying down in particular places (43 percent), begging (25 percent), and loitering and vagrancy (35 percent). These laws have been the focus of national and international scrutiny, receiving condemnation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the UN Human Rights Committee.

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Anti-Immigrant Ballot Measures Fail to Qualify in Oregon

By David Rogers, Executive Director

'immigrant rights are civil rights' signEarlier this year, I told you that we were fighting three anti-immigrant ballot initiatives that were the work of the extremist group, Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR,) and their allies. Today, I am happy to tell you that all three measures failed to qualify for the 2016 ballot. 

However, our work is not over. OFIR has vowed to return next election cycle with their anti-immigrant agenda. Through their deep ties to white nationalist groups and funders, OFIR will continue to target immigrant families in Oregon.

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First Appeals Court Hearing to Address Mass Surveillance

ACLU Challenges Warrantless "Backdoor" Searches

July 6, 2016 - For the first time, a federal appeals court heard oral argument on the merits in a case challenging the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international communications conducted under Section 702 of FISA, which allows the NSA to engage in warrantless surveillance of Americans who communicate with tens of thousands of targets located abroad.

In 2012, Mohammed Mohamud, a Somalia-born naturalized U.S. citizen, was convicted of plotting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. After his conviction, the government belatedly notified Mohamud that it had relied on Section 702 surveillance to obtain his communications without a warrant in the course of its investigation. Mohamud argued that the resulting evidence should have been suppressed and asked for a new trial. His challenge to the surveillance is now on appeal.

The American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, U.S. v. Mohamud, and were granted time to argue at the hearing today. 

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#BlackLivesMatter Tracked by Oregon DOJ with Social Media Monitoring Software

by Kimberly McCullough, Legislative Director

privacy and tech imageAs we’ve previously written about, analysts at the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) used a tool called Digital Stakeout to surveil people who used over 30 hashtags on social media, including #BlackLivesMatter and #fuckthepolice. Erious Johnson, director of the Oregon DOJ’s own Department of Civil Rights, was scooped up in this illegal dragnet and targeted for a threat assessment which included a review of hundreds of his personal tweets; a memo to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum flagging him as a potential threat to law enforcement; and an internal investigation into the matter which found that the search was “not in compliance” with state law and revealed a culture of self-reinforcing bias in the Criminal Justice Division of the Oregon DOJ. 

Today, I want to take a closer look at Digital Stakeout, the tool the DOJ used to conduct these searches. Digital Stakeout is social media monitoring software (SMMS) that can be used to covertly monitor, collect, and analyze our social media data from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. It is part of a rapidly expanding industry that the public knows little about. The goal here is to answer a few basic questions about SMMS: What can the technology do? How widespread is the use of SMMS by law enforcement in Oregon? What privacy concerns does it raise? And how we can protect free speech and privacy moving forward?

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The Most Powerful Elected Official You’ve Never Heard Of

By David Rogers, Executive Director8 out of 10 DA races were uncontested

Do you know who your district attorney is? If you do, you are among a very small percentage of the public.

District attorneys (DAs) are arguably the most powerful people in the criminal justice system, but the public doesn’t know who they are. Why does this matter? In our latest report, Roadblocks to Reform, we identify district attorneys as a central barrier to criminal justice reform.

There is a growing national consensus that America’s criminal justice system has core problems. We lead the world in the use of incarceration, while prisons are the most expensive and least effective public safety intervention. Despite increased media coverage of deeply troubling criminal justice issues and attention from the public and other elected officials, the role of district attorneys gets little attention. Although police are responsible for arrests, prosecutors in district attorneys’ offices have a tremendous amount of responsibility in determining people’s fate once they enter the system.

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Criminalizing Kindness

Springfield Votes to Punish Good Samaritans, Homeless People

by Kelly Simon, Legal Fellow
person on the side of the road with signApril 19, 2016 - Cities in Oregon and across the nation are struggling with how best to address their growing homeless populations. Housing first? More social services? Unfortunately, cities often end up choosing what they incorrectly perceive to be most cost efficient: More policing.

The proliferation of low-level criminal offenses created to “regulate” homelessness has taken various forms—anti-panhandling violations, anti-camping offenses, exclusion zones coupled with trespass laws, and disorderly conduct laws. Now we are seeing a new group targeted with these type of offenses—Good Samaritans.

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