The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a warrant to search a Facebook page that organizes protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The warrant would allow police to access messages, location information, photos and videos from the page, based out of Bellingham, Wash. It specifically requests information on the page from 12 days in early February, during which there was a protest that blocked a portion of a freeway in western Washington.
The Bellingham #NODAPL Coalition engages in and organizes protests against the construction of the pipeline. It’s Facebook page has more than 1,000 followers. During the 12 days in February, members of the coalition are said to have engaged in several protests, including one at Bellingham’s U.S. Bank.
Another protest on Feb. 11 blocked northbound Interstate 5 for an hour in Whatcom County, Wash. According to police, the blockade resulted in a nearby rollover crash that injured one person. At the time, authorities were said to be considering charges against protesters, although no immediate arrests were made.
According to the motion, an admin of the the page was notified in late February by Facebook that it had received a search warrant for the “stored contents” of the account, including “messages, photos, videos, wall posts and location information.”
The ACLU of Washington argues that the warrant, issued on Feb. 16, violates the First Amendment by targeting political speech and activities. According to the organization, the warrant is seeking data about not just the group running the page, but also people who have interacted with it on Facebook.
“The warrant at issue here is deeply problematic and runs afoul of constitutional protections,” said La Rond Baker, staff attorney at the ACLU of Washington, in a news release. “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.”
Baker also argues that the warrant violates the Fourth Amendment by conducting a “broad fishing expedition.” The Fourth Amendment requires warrants to be specific in what areas or items the officials have probable cause to search.
“Seizing information from Facebook accounts simply because they are associated with protests of the government violates these core constitutional principles,” Baker said.
Facebook has been a vital tool in organizing the protests against the pipeline construction, and law enforcement’s access to it has been an ongoing controversy. Last year, Facebook users around the world “checked in” at the protests in Standing Rock amid rumors that officials were monitoring geotags on Facebook to track protesters. Police denied those rumors.
A hearing on the ACLU’s motion is scheduled for Tuesday in Whatcom County, Wash., Superior Court.