Wyden, Merkley, Blumenauer, Bonamici, Schrader Ask Feds for Answers About Surveillance Flight Over Portland Protest

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici and Kurt Schrader today asked federal officials for answers about a recent flight of a possible law enforcement aircraft in Portland over a protest about the police killing of George Floyd and Black Americans.

The Oregon lawmakers’ letter to the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) comes after a media report that an aircraft previously linked to the USMS circled over Portland for about three hours on the night of June 13 when thousands of Oregonians exercised their First Amendment right to protest.

The lawmakers note the aircraft that flew over Portland is registered to a company identified by journalists as a front company for the USMS. Media reports have previously revealed the USMS operates a fleet of surveillance aircraft equipped with invasive cellphone surveillance technology capable of secretly gathering information dragnet-style from tens of thousands of phones below.

“While such large-scale invasions of privacy might be justified in order to protect the public from imminent harm, the decision as to when to conduct bulk surveillance using a technology that intrudes on the privacy of so many innocent people must be made by independent courts and not the government,” the lawmakers wrote USMS Director Donald W. Washington.

“Oregonians, like Americans everywhere, are justifiably outraged by recent events, including the murder of George Floyd by the police, which have highlighted longstanding problems in our society and government, including systemic racism and police brutality,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Many Oregonians who have protested are justifiably concerned that their participation in these lawful protests will be logged, recorded, and used against them later by the government,” they wrote. “As such, Congress has a responsibility to investigate these reports and make sure that the government’s powerful surveillance tools are under the close supervision of the courts and that Americans’ rights are being protected.” 

The letter asks USMS to provide answers to the following questions by July 17, 2020:

1.     Does the USMS own or operate the Cessna Caravan airplane, tail number N1789M, that reportedly flew 30 loops over Portland on the night of June 13, 2020?

2.     Who authorized the use of a front company to register these airplanes? Please provide us with a copy of this authorization.

3.     Who authorized the June 13, 2020, flight over Portland? Please provide us with a copy of this authorization.

4.     What surveillance equipment was used and what types of data were collected during this operation?

5.     Has data collected during this operation been shared with other agencies or any other entity? If so please identify them.

6.     If surveillance technology was used, was it authorized by a court? If yes, please provide us with a copy of the court order and the corresponding application.

7.     Has data collected on this flight been minimized, destroying data on innocent people who are not the targets of an investigation? If yes, please explain how. If no, please explain why not.

The entire letter is here.

A web version of this release is here.

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