Tribal members and environmental advocates filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Justice on Tuesday for “illegal domestic spying” through its Oregon TITAN Fusion Center – one of approximately 80 intelligence hubs tasked with surveilling potential domestic terrorists.
“It is astonishing and disturbing to become the target of a well-resourced secret police, solely because of my participation in peaceful rallies opposing a harmful fossil fuel pipeline across my ancestral lands,” Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, an environmental and Indigenous rights advocate, said in a press release.
Farrell-Smith is a plaintiff in the case and a member of the Klamath Tribe. She has protested against Jordan Cove, a 229-mile long natural gas pipeline that would have run through ancestral lands in Oregon. She has also created protest art and organized against a lithium mine in Nevada.
Other plaintiffs include Rowena Jackson, Francis Eatherington, and Sarah Westover. Jackson is also a member of the Klamath Tribe, a water protector, and works at the Klamath Tribes Administrative Office. Eatherington is president of the Oregon Women’s Land Trust, a conservation nonprofit. Westover was an organizer with No LNG Exports Coalition, an alliance of groups opposed to the Jordan Cove pipeline.
According to the lawsuit, “fusion centers” have little oversight and less is known about them. At least 3,000 state and federal employees work at fusion centers where they monitor individuals that pose possible domestic terrorist threats. Using tips from the public, social media, public records, and governmental materials, Oregon’s TITAN Fusion Center collects and shares data with “more than 170 local law enforcement agencies, dozens of federal and state intelligence hubs, and an unknown number of public and private partners,” the lawsuit states.
Following 9/11, at least 80 fusion centers have been created to prevent future terrorist attacks, but a 2012 Senate investigation found that they are ineffective and come at a cost of $330 million to taxpayers yearly. Originally created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the cost of funding them has largely shifted to states. According to the lawsuit, Oregon’s TITAN facility is run through Oregon’s Department of Justice’s Criminal Intelligence Division.
The lawsuit, filed by the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law, which partners with communities and police to promote accountability, claims that TITAN is illegally spying on environmental advocates that aren’t breaking the law. The Policing Project has also been involved in a case against Microsoft, siding with the company and its stance to not release data to law enforcement, and an audit of Ring, a video doorbell company that works with police departments across the country.
“None of the Plaintiffs engage in or support, nor have ever engaged in or supported, criminal activity that would warrant Oregon Department of Justice’s attention or fall within Oregon Department of Justice’s delegated powers,” the lawsuit states.
Jeff Rosenthal, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in a press release that TITAN “has repeatedly abused its unchecked power over law-abiding Oregon citizens.” The lawsuit states that TITAN also used surveillance software to physically track the location of Black Lives Matter protestors, using the information to create a threat report against Oregon’s own Department of Justice’s director of civil rights, as well as creating reports on the Women’s March.
“There is not a single Oregon law or regulation that gives the state Department of Justice the power to run a generalized spy agency,” said Barry Friedman, a law professor and the founding director of the Policing Project, in a press release. “That TITAN exists without any legislative authority flouts the basic principles of democratic governance.”
In a statement, the Department of Justice told Portland’s KATU, “We are reviewing the lawsuit, and will respond in court, but on initial review many of the examples cited in the lawsuit occurred several years ago and have been addressed.”
Plaintiffs hope the lawsuit will result in an end to TITAN’s surveillance activities.
“Civil rights and privacy advocates have been sounding the alarm about fusion centers for years,” said Farhang Heydari, executive director of the Policing Project, in a statement. “But TITAN is one of the worst offenders.”