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Black Lives Matter Supporters Targeted By Online Surveillance in Oregon

11/12/2015, 1:58 p.m.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum says one of her investigators has been put on paid leave after she learned he ...
Oregon Department of Justice Employee Gathered Info On #BlackLivesMatter Tweeters. Black Lives Matter Portland

(AP) ---- Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum says one of her investigators has been put on paid leave after she learned he had searched for social media hashtags used by the Black Lives Matter movement as part of a threat-assessment program.

Rosenblum said she was "shocked and appalled" when she learned of the allegations. Her comments, including the promise of an independent investigation, came Tuesday after a letter from the Urban League of Portland accused the Department of Justice of digital surveillance of people involved in the racial justice movement.

The Urban League's director, Nkenge Harmon Johnson, accused the department of targeting those who used the phrase "Black Lives Matter" on social media. She wrote that the surveillance snared her husband Erious Johnson the director of the department's civil rights division. The letter was signed by Oregon labor officials and civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.

"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," Harmon Johnson wrote.

Rosenblum confirmed that an investigator in the department's criminal justice division used an online search tool to look up social media hashtags, including the one used by the Black Lives Matter movement, as part of threat-assessment work.

She declined to identify the investigator and said "there may be others."

She said she has hired a special investigator to examine the data collection by the Justice Department's Criminal Justice Division.

"I need to get to the bottom of this," Rosenblum said.

Rosenberg said she learned about the allegations two weeks ago.

Rosenblum said the criminal justice team's overall work on threat assessment was a "legitimate area."

"They were looking for anti-police sentiments potential threats to police," she said.

Mat dos Santos, legal director for the ACLU in Oregon, urged Rosenblum to reveal the "full extent of the state's involvement in this illegal and racially based surveillance."