Local Washington state police have obtained a court warrant to search the Facebook page of a group dedicated to protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The warrant from the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department seeks data surrounding the Bellingham #NoDAPL Coalition’s Facebook page. The page, with more than 1,000 followers, provides information about pipeline environmental issues and is used to organize political protests and connect political activists.
In addition to demanding account information about those who have interacted with the group’s page, the warrant seeks “messages, photos, videos, wall posts, and location information” dating from February 4 to February 15. The search time period surrounds a February 11 protest in downtown Bellingham against the Trump administration’s decision to follow through with the pipeline. Protesters had blocked Interstate 5 for more than an hour, snarling traffic for miles.
Bellingham resident Neah Monteiro, the page’s top admin, received an e-mail from Facebook after the protest. It said the social networking site had received a warrant for the data. The American Civil Liberties Union intervened and filed a motion (PDF) Thursday to quash the warrant. The ACLU said the data is constitutionally protected speech.
As the creator, and one of the 14 administrators, of the bellinghamnodapl Facebook group, Ms. Monteiro has constitutional rights that are plainly implicated by the execution of the County’s warrant, which seeks her and her associates’ private content including “messages, photos, videos, wall posts and location information.” The warrant substantially burdens Ms. Monteiro’s First Amendment right to free association, as well as that of the group’s other members.
The ACLU said the Facebook page’s contents, some but not all of which is publicly visible on the page, includes political views and opinions and images and videos of demonstrations. It also contains “potentially identifying information regarding members or associates of the Bellingham #NoDAPL Coalition. Disclosure of that information could reveal the names of individuals involved in planning or attending political protests, their images and political speech, the physical locations of the group’s creator over a 12-day period, and more.” The organization continued in its motion:
In fact, the County’s warrant would reach the messages of even general members of the public who interacted with the group on the Facebook page by asking questions about the group’s activities or engaging with the group in political debate. Hosting and participating in an online forum for political organizing, debate, and advocacy is activity that lies at the core of the First Amendment—and the Founders would have recognized it as such.
A hearing in Whatcom County Superior Court on the matter is set for next Tuesday.