ACLU: NDAPL Facebook Warrant Violates First and Fourth Amendment rights

ACLU files motion in response to Whatcom County Sheriff's Department warrant application for data search of #NoDAPL Coalition Facebook page

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization in the forefront of the fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, this week issued a motion, in response to what it has referred to as an ‘Overboard and unconstitutional’ attempt by Whatcom County Sheriff’s office to obtain information from the social media giant Facebook, in connection with a protest in Bellingham, Washington. The protest, which took place on February 11th, temporarily blocked access to the northbound carriageway of Interstate 5, resulting in a four mile tail back. The fact that the action lasted no more than an hour, and was comparatively low key, has led to an ACLU response in which it referred to the application for the warrant as an ‘unconstitutional request for private data’ according to the Russian News Service RT.

The ACLU’s involvements with the NDAPL protests are rooted in the rights of US citizens to engage in lawful and democratic protest. Issues that have been raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and its representatives have also included the use of Surveillance and Militarization by Morton County law enforcement, as well as the decision by the Department of Homeland Security to categorize at least some of the protesters as domestic terrorists. The same fundamental issues of human and constitutional rights have also been raised by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation, an organization that ‘protects the right of political expression to strengthen participatory democracy, and to fulfill the promise of the Bill of Rights for everyone.’

Last month the BORDC raised a number of issues on its website, after receiving reports that some of the Water Protectors had been contacted by members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, who had made attempts to question them. A matter also reported by the Guardian newspaper, which had carried a report three days previously which had been suggestive of the fact that the activities of the indigenous-led movement were by now being viewed as domestic terrorism by the Federal Authorities. These actions in themselves, which had been carried out by a Task Force which has a specific remit linking it to the investigation of terrorist activities, have been seen by both the ACLU and the BORDC as an abuse of the FBI’s counterterrorism authority to surveil; owing to the fact that the right to peaceful protest is in itself a First Amendment protected activity.

In a statement to visitors to its website, the BORDC boldly declared that ‘It’s time for this to end’, before adding that: ‘We have documented how the FBI continuously uses its counter-terrorism authorities to investigate First Amendment activity, most recently including Black Lives Matter movement, School of the Americas Watch, and anti-Keystone Pipeline protesters.’ More recently, Mat dos Santos, Legal Director, ACLU of Oregon, has voiced similar sentiments on the American Civil Liberties Union website: ‘Earlier this week, we learned that people in Portland organizing against police killings of Black men, white nationalist politicians, and the countless systems of racism throughout our local, state, and federal governments are now considered “domestic terrorists” by Department of Homeland Security. Why? Because the Portland Police Bureau labeled the November 10, 2016 protest a “riot.”

In an earlier statement the ACLU had made clear the importance of the First Amendment in relation to basic democratic rights and freedom of speech: ‘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 government monitoring or interference. When warrants target speech and activity protected by the First Amendment, the motion argues, courts must apply a heightened level of scrutiny in evaluating their legality. The ACLU challenged the warrant as an unlawful intrusion on all of these rights and asserts that upholding such a warrant would have a chilling effect on protected speech.’

A hearing to decide the matter is scheduled for Tuesday March 14 at the Whatcom Superior Court.

Rupert Ferguson
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Rupert Ferguson

Journalist at Distract The Media
Rupert Ferguson is a published author, journalist and radical film maker with specialist interests in local government, politics, environmental issues and Traditional English and Scottish Folk Music. His academic work has been endorsed by the likes of Sir Melvyn Bragg, the late Sir James Watt KBE and the former head of Humanities at Bingley College in Yorkshire, England; James Reed.

Having begun his career as a junior researcher at Thames Television in London, he has written for a wide range of publications including 'The Brighton Reporter', 'Durham Town and Country', 'The Brighton and Hove People' and 'The New Celtic Review'. As an exhibited film maker he has been a regular contributor and award nominee at the Portobello Film Festival in London; and has seen his work shown at the annual London Film Makers' Convention at the prestigious Round House Theatre.

As well as receiving enthusiastic reviews from BBC Radio 4 and others for his book on Sir Walter Scott, his pioneering work as an Underground Film Maker on the fledgeling Goa Trance Scene has set him in a field of his own amongst many of his contemporaries; both in the UK, where he presently resides, and elsewhere. Current projects presently in hand include a book centred on his 'Legendary London' series of documentary films, which have stimulated an enthusiastic response from the likes of Glenda Jackson and others; and a novel set in France and Edinburgh during the eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment.

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