Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice Secretly Obtained Private Social Media Information of Three University Media Outlets During 2017 Student Strike

Oct 9, 2019
9:19 PM

On Tuesday, one of the main Puerto Rican student journalism outlets that covered the island’s 2017 university strikes revealed that Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice secretly issued a search warrant to obtain 1,553 pages of photos, comments and conversation about the strike from the outlet’s Facebook account.

The Pulso Estudiantil story said that the outlet did not know about this search warrant until last week. The warrant sought to get information from Facebook for the period of April 26-28, 2017. A similar request was made for the Facebook accounts of outlets Diálogo UPR and the Centro de Comunicación Estudiantil (CCE).

Pulso published pages of the warrant. Those pages are below:

According to the Pulso report, the warrant resulted in getting information about Pulso’s videos, as well as the names of those who posted for Pulso’s Facebook account and the names of people who commented on the posts. Pulso also said that Department of Justice gained access to private conversations between the outlet and its followers, along with the personal information of Roberto Nava Alsina, Pulso’s co-founder and former director. Nava Alsina’s credit card information was also obtained.

In a statement to the press released earlier on Wednesday, Pulso said the warrant was an attack on press freedom and its right to privacy.

“If it happened to us, it can happen to any other outlet,” Marisol Nazario Bonilla, Pulso’s current director, said in a statement.

The statement also noted that Pulso was never notified about the warrant by the Justice Department or Facebook, even though there was a 90-day window to notify the outlet. The warrant was signed by judge Rafael Jiménez Rivera.

Pulso noted that it was made aware of the warrant by the office of Rep. Denis Márquez Lebrón, a member of the island’s Independence Party, who presented a House resolution in September to investigate the matter.

Wanda Vázquez, Puerto Rico’s current governor, was Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Justice in 2017. The governor told the local press on Wednesday that this order was not an attack on press freedom. Latino Rebels has asked Vázquez for a statement in English. (If and when we receive one, we will update this story.)

The warrant wanted to find more information about April 27, 2017 videos where student strikers protested a meeting of the University of Puerto Rico’s governing board about austerity cuts. It claimed that it needed to find out who was behind the videos posted by the university outlets and that it also needed to find out the identity of the students who interrupted the meeting, even alleging that cybercrimes were committed. The warrant also claimed that journalists participated in the actual protest.

This is one of the videos in question: