A federal judge has modified a 1978 court order to broaden the constitutionally protected political activity of residents.
The court-ordered changes cover social media and other advancements of the digital age, according to a release from the ACLU-TN.
The modifications, issued by Judge Jon Phipps McCalla on Monday (Sept. 21), expand boundaries to include social media, electronic surveillance, body cameras and other modern technology, while maintaining that the city shall not engage in First Amendment-related intelligence, the release said.
In his ruling, McCalla denied the city’s request that it be allowed to work jointly with other law enforcement agencies and its request to share information with private companies.
However, in his 48-page ruling, he said, “The Court grants in part and denies in part the city’s request to modify the Kendrick Consent Decree. The Court finds that sufficient evidence in the record supports granting the Parties’ Jointly Proposed Modifications to the Kendrick Consent Decree.”
The original court order limiting domestic surveillance was issued in the 1978 decision in ACLU-TN’s lawsuit Kendrick v. Chandler.
In 2018, the court ruled in Blanchard v. City of Memphis that by engaging in surveillance of the protected political activities of activists the Memphis police had violated the 1978 court order.
“We are pleased that the modifications ordered today take into account new technology that did not exist when the original court order was drafted decades ago, but still preserve the strength and protections of the original,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director, in the release.
“The modifications also clarify what the consent decree means so that everyone – including law enforcement – can fully understand the safeguards it provides.”
Jennifer Sink, the city’s chief legal officer said she is pleased the court recognized the need to make modifications to the Kendrick consent decrees.
“The changes will allow the Memphis Police Department to fight crime and use modern technology to protect the citizens of Memphis while continuing to protect their First Amendment rights ⸺ which the city and its police department are strong proponents,” she said. “The modifications will also ensure that our police officers can successfully comply with the order.”
While the decree allows the city to view information posted to social media for legitimate law enforcement purposes, such as in the course of a criminal investigation, it clearly states that the city cannot create undercover accounts on social media or surveil people exercising their free speech rights for purpose of First Amendment-related intelligence.
The modifications also include restrictions on the use of body-worn and other cameras during protests and assemblies.