FBI sent a team to 'exploit' Portland protesters' phones
Federal agents tend to focus their phone cracking efforts on terrorists, but they appear to have turned their attention to civil disobedience. NYR Daily learned that in mid-July the FBI dispatched its counter-terrorism unit, Fly Team, to Portland to carry out the “initial exploitation” of phones and other devices used by people working against racism and violence Police protest. The email revealing the plan of now retired special agent George Chamberlain also asked for help with the "investigative investigation."
There is concern that the FBI has exceeded the limits of its device search powers. Raymond Holcomb, co-creator of the Fly team, told NYR that it was unclear what powers the FBI had to search the phones and whether agents had consents or warrants. The Fly-Team was set up to fight the fight against terrorism with a "different set of instruments", not with everyday demonstrators.
Members of the House Committee on Homeland Security have recently feared federal agents have been holding on to seized phones for months.
The FBI declined to comment on the details of the operation, citing the "ongoing nature" of such cases. It was alleged that the Portland activities "met all of our legal requirements" and were "not directed towards peaceful protest".
These claims may not be enough to satisfy some critics. Senator Ron Wyden has called for clarification on the activities of the FBI and Homeland Security in Portland, saying that it would be "outrageous" if Oregon residents were exposed to federal surveillance such as phone exploits for their policies alone. Without transparency, it is not certain whether the FBI or DHS respected the protesters' digital rights.
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