Author:Cordell, Alex

JUST OVER A year ago, after the Trump administration gave the green light to move forward with construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, an activist group called Red Line Salish Sea staged a peaceful protest in Bellingham, Washington. Demonstrators blocked traffic on a highway for nearly an hour before dispersing. One of the organizers told The Bellingham Herald that "I hope that people take away that it was just a temporary inconvenience, but [pipelines] are impacting people's lives" in more substantial ways.

The county prosecutor's office responded with a disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment investigation of the demonstrators. To uncover their identities, officials repeatedly attempted to obtain a warrant for private information from the group's Facebook page. As the protesters' attorney noted, "The warrant and the county's pleadings do not so much as acknowledge the existence of the First Amendment, nor that this was a demonstration, but simply treat it as supposed criminal activity like a bar fight or drunk driving."

The first two warrant applications were withdrawn after the American Civil Liberties Union and Facebook fought back, noting that they would chill political speech and association. So county prosecutor David McEachran went to the feds, and the Department of Justice chimed in with tips on how to craft a warrant to pass constitutional muster.

Third time was the charm. Must be nice to have friends in high places.

The Washington Court of Appeals declined to stop the warrant, and Facebook was forced to disclose copious amounts of information about the page and its visitors, including the account names of everyone "going," "interested," and "invited" to the protest, contact information for the group's administrators, and all status updates, messages, videos, pictures, and other content tagged on the page.

The court acknowledged a precedent set in the case NAACP v. Alabama, a civil rights-era ruling that prevented that state from forcing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to turn over a list of its members to the government. But it decided the decision didn't apply to Red Line Salish Sea, reasoning that the group's members wouldn't face the same harassment and reprisal if their ties were revealed.

Tell that to Michelle Vendiola. After she was outed online, her employer, Western Washington University...

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