ACLU challenges warrant to search Facebook page of Dakota Access opponents

ACLU challenges warrant to search Facebook page of Dakota Access opponents
© Greg Nash

The American Civil Liberties Union is moving to quash a police warrant granted to search data on a Facebook page of a group protesting the Dakota Access pipeline. 

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion Wednesday to strike what it described as a far-reaching and unconstitutional request by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department in Bellingham, Wash., to search the Facebook page of the Bellingham #NODAPL Coalition. 

The coalition and other individuals across the country have engaged in protests against the Trump administration’s plan to move forward on construction of the pipeline. The group is said to have been involved in a protest at Bellingham’s U.S. Bank in early February.

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According to the ACLU, the founder of the Facebook page received an email from Facebook on March 3 with a copy of the warrant issued to search the site. The message, cited by the ACLU in its filing, also indicated that a motion would need to be filed by March 8 to quash the warrant and that Facebook would otherwise respond to the legal process. The ACLU has posted a copy of the warrant on its website. 

The motion argues that the warrant is unconstitutional because it permits a broad search of private electronic data protected by the First and Fourth Amendments.

“The warrant at issue here is deeply problematic and runs afoul of constitutional protections. Political speech and the freedom to engage in political activity without being subjected to undue government scrutiny are at the heart of the First Amendment,” La Rond Baker, staff attorney at the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement issued late Wednesday. 

“Further, the Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from performing broad fishing expeditions into private affairs. And seizing information from Facebook accounts simply because they are associated with protests of the government violates these core constitutional principles,” Baker said. 

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

“The First Amendment protects political speech, the right to receive information, and the right to associate with others to engage in political speech and advocacy without state monitoring or interference. The warrant here intrudes on all of these rights and would chill both political speech and association at the heart of the First Amendment,” the motion states. 

“The warrant also fails to meet the basic Fourth Amendment requirement that warrants be particularized, not least because it potentially extends to any member of the public, supportive or not, who interacted with the group."

This post was updated at 2:06 p.m.