Judge rules Memphis Police monitoring activists violates court order

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A federal judge has ruled that the Memphis Police Department violated a 1978 court order prohibiting the Memphis government from monitoring constitutionally-protected political activists.

This comes after the ACLU accused Memphis police of using social media, undercover operations and other means to monitor activists with Black Lives Matter and other groups.

“This ruling is a tremendous victory for free speech in Memphis and nationwide,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. “The court not only recognized that under the consent decree Memphis residents enjoy even stronger free speech protections than those afforded by the First Amendment, but that this uniquely positions Memphis to be a standard-bearer for cities across the country as they wrestle with how to protect individuals’ privacy and free speech in the face of ever-growing surveillance technologies.”

The court imposed sanctions “designed to ensure future compliance” with the consent decree, including requirements that the Memphis Police Department revise their policy on political intelligence, train officers, establish a process for approving criminal investigations that may incidentally result in gathering political intelligence, establish written guidelines for the use of social media searches, maintain a list of all search terms used in social media collators and submit the list to the court quarterly.

The court is also appointing an independent monitor to supervise the implementation of these sanctions.

Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings issued a statement on the ruling:
“The Memphis Police Department has been proactive in our approach by putting methods in place, prior to the ruling, to ensure that we stay within the limits of the decree. 

“We look forward to working with the court to ensure compliance.” 

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