Sheriff, ACLU disagree on Facebook search warrant in Bellingham | KUOW News and Information

Sheriff, ACLU disagree on Facebook search warrant in Bellingham

Mar 9, 2017

A case involving a Facebook group for activists is going to court in Whatcom County.

Protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline held a demonstration on Interstate 5 in Bellingham last month. 

They linked themselves together across the road, interrupting traffic for about an hour. One person was injured in a rollover crash during that time.

The Whatcom County sheriff's office has a search warrant for Facebook photos of the protesters. Sheriff Bill Elfo wants to identify the people involved because he says the protest put people in danger.

Elfo: "We're talking about people that are blocking a major freeway and putting themselves, putting other motorists, and putting other law enforcement in danger by doing so."

He says they are not against peaceful protests, but this one went too far.

But the ACLU of Washington is asking the Whatcom Superior Court to throw out the warrant. The organization says it’s unjustified surveillance. Spokesperson Doug Honig says the search warrant violates the activists' first amendment rights, including their ability to protest and to communication on social media.

Honig: "The government hasn't justified why they need to engage in a broad fishing expedition about their private information of hundreds of people who've been engaged in political protest."

A hearing on the ACLU's request is scheduled for Tuesday in Whatcom County Superior Court. It’s the same court that granted the sheriff’s offices initial request for a search warrant.