The U.S. government is seeking names of Trump critics.
Specifically, the U.S. Department of Justice wants to know the IP addresses, contact information, email content and photos of 1.3 million people who visited a website organizing protests against the current U.S president.
Let that sink in for a moment. Yes, you read it correctly: the U.S. government wants to identify everyone who visited the website, disruptj20.org, and is demanding from website hosting service, DreamHost, that it turn over all identifying information about visitors to the site. DreamHost is among the most widely-used website hosting companies in the world.
Even for the U.S., in this age when hardly anything online is off limits, this should chill the bones of every American citizen.
This not about politics; not about political views; not about left or right, red or blue, Republican or Democrat. This is about the U.S. government wanting to know if you’re a critic of the current presidential administration.
This is not a passage out of George Orwell’s epic novel, 1984. This is the United States of America – in real life – in 2017.
With the exception of the crucial internet issue of Net Neutrality, we don’t discuss public policy or politics on our Relevanza site. We’re a digital marketing agency. But this attempt by the U.S. government to stifle free speech, intimidate public dissent and possibly seek revenge against its critics is so egregious we cannot ignore it. And you should not ignore it, either.
To obtain the information it’s seeking the Department of Justice served a search warrant on DreamHost.
Fortunately – and thankfully – DreamHost is fight back.
“Chris Ghazarian, our General Counsel, has taken issue with this particular search warrant for being a highly untargeted demand that chills free association and the right of free speech afforded by the Constitution,” wrote DreamHost on its blog. “That 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. That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.
“This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority.”
DreamHost went to court, objecting to the search warrant and hoping to nullify it.
“Instead of responding to our inquiries regarding the overbreadth of the warrant, the DOJ filed a motion (PDF) in the Washington, D.C. Superior Court, asking for an order to compel DreamHost to produce the records,” wrote DreamHost.
A court hearing on the battle is set for today in Washington. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has also joined the battle.
“No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth, other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible,” wrote EFF on its blog. “But the Fourth Amendment (to the U.S. Constitution) was designed to prohibit fishing expeditions like this. Those concerns are especially relevant here, where DOJ is investigating a website that served as a hub for the planning and exercise of First Amendment-protected activities.”
“The internet was founded — and continues to survive, in the main — on its democratizing ability to facilitate a free exchange of ideas. Internet users have a reasonable expectation that they will not get swept up in criminal investigations simply by exercising their right to political speech against the government,” concluded DreamHost on its blog.
“We intend to take whatever steps are necessary to support and shield these users from what is, in our view, a very unfocused search and an unlawful request for their personal information.”