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The Troubling New Practice of Police Livestreaming Protests

Slate – “This article is part of the Free Speech Project, a collaboration between Future Tense and the Tech, Law, & Security Program at American University Washington College of Law that examines the ways technology is influencing how we think about speech. Last summer’s anti–police brutality protests represented the largest mass demonstration effort in American history. Since then, law enforcement departments nationwide have faced intense scrutiny for how they policed these historic protests. The repeated, egregious instances of violence against journalists and protesters are well documented and have driven widespread calls for systematic reform. These calls have focused in part on surveillance, after the police used sophisticated social media data monitoring, commandeered non-city camera networks, and tried other intrusive methods to identify suspects. But in Oregon, the Portland Police Bureau went a step further in its innovation: It broadcast its surveillance publicly, in real time, by livestreaming protests on social media. According to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, PPB hosted a video on YouTube and on its official Twitter feed—which has more than 230,000 followers—on at least three occasions. PPB allegedly zoomed in to focus on individual protesters’ faces, making them easily identifiable and vulnerable to surveillance technologies such as facial recognition software, which law enforcement used to identify a protester in D.C.’s Lafayette Square and, reportedly, many of the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. PPB first justified its public livestreaming on the grounds that it was necessary to provide “situational awareness” and to record possible criminal activity, and later “so the community could understand what was occurring at the protest.” But an Oregon court quickly forbade the livestreams, based on Oregon law and a local consent decree…”

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