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Judge approves changes to police surveillance in Memphis

MEMPHIS (AP) — A federal judge has ruled the police department in Memphis cannot cooperate with another agency to avoid restrictions from a decades-old order barring the city from engaging in surveillance of protesters and activists.
The Commercial Appeal reported Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla makes changes to the 1978 federal consent decree, which was issued following disclosure the Memphis Police Department spied on civil rights activists, violating their First Amendment rights.
The rewritten order says the police department and the city “shall not encourage, cooperate with, delegate, employ or contract” with local, state or federal agencies to “plan or conduct” activities prohibited by the order.
The ruling comes as an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit claims Memphis police engaged in improper electronic surveillance of activists associated with Black Lives Matter and other groups in recent years. McCalla ruled in 2018 that the agency violated the order by watching and monitoring the social media accounts of protesters.
“Our recent, successful lawsuit to once again stop police surveillance of residents illustrates the need for constant vigilance to protect our First Amendment rights,” Hedy Weinberg, the executive director for ACLU of Tennessee, said in a news release.
The rewritten decree also addressed social media, and other technologies like body cameras, WREG-TV reported.
The ruling came after McCalla oversaw virtual hearings about the order earlier this year. The ACLU and attorneys with the police department had reached agreements on rewrites to other sections of the decree, but disagreed on how police could share information with other agencies.
Michael Rallings, the police department’s director, and other police officials have argued the language in the order was restrictive and would hamper their ability to cooperate with other agencies.