On Monday, The nation reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intercepted phone communications from protesters in Portland this summer. Today Senator Ron Wyden sent a letter to DHS asking for answers.
Wyden told us in an email, “There are still many questions about what DHS did in Portland, but I urge answers. The bottom line is that it would be totally unacceptable, illegal, and unconstitutional for the Trump administration to call people because of it would spy on political beliefs. ”
Wyden, a U.S. Senator representing Oregon, is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee responsible for overseeing the intelligence community. The letter addressed to Acting Secretary of the DHS, Chad Wolf, signed by both Senator from Wyden and Senator from Oregon, Jeff Merkley, contains a list of detailed questions regarding those of The nation earlier this week.
The first question concerns former DHS intelligence chief Brian Murphy, who declined to confirm to the committee that his agency “has not collected, exploited or analyzed any information obtained from devices or accounts of protesters or inmates,” as he said in a briefing in July. The letter also asks whether the DHS extracted data from the protesters’ phones, whether it later analyzed this data, and whether it received permission from a judge to do so.
The letter begins by stating, “A recent article in The Nation alleges that an interagency task force involving DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) was monitoring the phones of protesters in Portland.” As we reported on Monday, the DHS carried out a clone attack on cell phones this summer to intercept phone communications from protesters in Portland. The letter advises that these activities would be considered unconstitutional.
Congress has put in place tough legal safeguards that require government agencies to obtain approval from an independent judge before they can search Americans’ devices and monitor their communications – without an emergency. This is to prevent the government from suppressing the legitimate freedom of speech protected by the first amendment and from violating Americans’ right to privacy, which is protected by the fourth amendment.
These recent reports claiming the DHS used high-tech surveillance technology against protesters in Portland raise serious concerns that Congress needs to investigate.
The use of the DHS in Portland was controversial and went against the will of many local officials, including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. The forces mobilized included Border Patrol Tactical Units (equivalent of the elite Customs and Border Protection Special Forces) and Department of Justice assets such as U.S. marshals. While the response has been widely criticized as tenacious, the Trump administration made it necessary to respond to civil unrest and protect federal property.
“The DHS will not shirk our responsibility,” replied acting Secretary Wolf to the criticism in July. “We don’t escalate, we protect.”