A tech firm in Los Angeles is fighting a federal order to fetch the IP addresses of more than 1.3 million visitors who came together on a website to coordinate a protest on Inauguration Day. The tech firm DreamHost runs the website DisruptJ20.org, where all these anti-Trump visitors came together online.
Unconstitutional demand from government
Chris Ghazarian, general counsel for DreamHost, says that they have received a “sweeping request for every single file we have,” adding that “the search warrant is not only dealing with everything in relation to the website but also tons of data about people who visited it.”
According to The Washington Post, a Superior Court judge in Washington D.C. issued the search warrant, which would help the government close in on visitors to the website. Information such as emails shared between the administrators and people who wanted to be part of a demonstration, names, and photographs and other details have been requested.
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According to DreamHost, the order is “pure prosecutorial overreach by a politicized Justice Department” intended to silence the President’s critics. DreamHost argues that there are various logs and specific identifiable information in the data which would help the government make a list of those who oppose the current administration. In a blog post, DreamHost says the “information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment.”
Rising support for DreamHost
The issue dates back to January, when investigators asked DreamHost to save the records and issued a subpoena for a limited set of data on the site. According to Ghazarian, the firm gave what was asked for then. Then in April, over 200 people were charged in connection with a protest that went awry, causing six people to be injured and store windows to be damaged. The charges mostly included damage and assault, notes The Washington Post.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy group currently representing DreamHost, said that what the Justice Department is asking right now is outright “unconstitutional,” notes ZDNet. Mark Rumold, a senior staff attorney, said that demanding such extensive information does not make any sense, except in an attempt to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible.
“But the Fourth Amendment was designed to prohibit fishing expeditions like this,” Rumold said.
Ken White, an attorney who posts blogs on Popehat.com, agrees with DreamHost’s concerns about the breadth of data requested by the government, notes The Register.
“It’s seeking the records of every single contact with the site — the IP address and other details of every American opposed enough to Trump to visit the site and explore political activism,” White said.
As of now, there has been no comment on the development from the United States Attorney’s office in Washington D.C., where the warrant was issued. Prosecutors cited in the court documents defended it as constitutional. The order was reportedly issued on July 12 and was made public by DreamHost on Monday. A hearing on the case is scheduled in a Washington, D.C. court for Friday.