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House lawmakers question Homeland Security over protester surveillance

The call follows reports of drone surveillance and covert operations.

Protesters demonstrating in North Carolina while decrying the killing of George Floyd.
Sarah Tew/CNET

House Democrats on the Oversight Committee on Saturday called for the Department of Homeland Security to explain how it has conducted surveillance of protesters demonstrating against racial discrimination and police violence.

"This Administration has undermined the First Amendment freedoms of Americans of all races who are rightfully protesting George Floyd's killing," said lawmakers in their letter to acting Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf. "The deployment of drones and officers to surveil protests is a gross abuse of authority and is particularly chilling when used against Americans who are protesting law enforcement brutality."

The committee's call for an investigation follows reports that a US Customs and Border Protection drone was used to surveil protests in Minneapolis late last month. The Drug Enforcement Administration was also reportedly given temporary authorization to "conduct covert surveillance" of people participating in protests and share that intelligence with other law enforcement agencies, according to a memo obtained by Buzzfeed News.

Recent protests demonstrating against police brutality began late last month after George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, died after a white police officer jammed a knee onto his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The officer was fired and has been charged with murder.  

The protests have since spread around the world as people take to the streets to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.  

Many tech companies, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, have stated their support for the protesters and pledged funds to groups supporting civil rights and black communities.

The Department of Homeland Security didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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