DOJ demands 1.3 million IP addresses of visitors to Trump protest site

DreamHost is fighting the government's search warrant that seeks to identify who visited an anti-Trump site, arguing the warrant violates privacy laws and the Fourth Amendment.

Reasonableness…isn’t that a cornerstone of U.S. law? What a reasonable person would do, reasonable doubt, reasonable suspicion. Is it reasonable for the Justice Department to demand the IP addresses of all visitors to a site that helped organize and plan protests on January 20, the day of President Trump’s inauguration?

DreamHost doesn’t think it is and is resisting the DOJ's demand that the web host hand over 1.3 million visitors’ IP addresses and much more.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) dangled the bait, a link to the site disruptj20.org, before asking readers if they clicked. If you did click it, the EFF said, “That’s apparently information the government wants to know. In just one example of the staggering overbreadth of the search warrant, it would require DreamHost to turn over the IP logs of all visitors to the site. Millions of visitors—activists, reporters, or you (if you clicked on the link)—would have records of their visits turned over to the government.”

DreamHost explained in a search warrant issued in July (pdf) that the Justice Department demanded DreamHost hand over all the IP addresses — as well as “contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people — in an effort to determine who simply visited the website.”

“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,” DreamHost said. “That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.”

A “particular customer” is the subject of the warrant, without the government explaining why it needs the information on everyone else who visited the site. DreamHost General Counsel Chris Ghazarian says the search warrant is “a highly untargeted demand that chills free association and the right of free speech afforded by the Constitution.”

This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority.

The EFF agreed:

No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth, other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible.

The EFF is not representing DreamHost, but it is assisting in the case, since DreamHost has decided to fight the government’s demand.

DreamHost fights back

In the opposition letter (pdf), DreamHost argued that the DOJ’s search warrant “not only aims to identify the political dissidents of the current administration, but attempts to identify and understand what content each of these dissidents viewed on the website.” Additionally, the warrant demands DreamHost “disclose the content of all email inquiries and comments submitted from numerous private email accounts … all though a single sweeping warrant.”

DreamHost cited several cases, including one in which Microsoft was fighting a search warrant for email accounts by comparing the warrant to one “asking the post office to provide copies of all mail ever sent by or delivered to a certain address so that the government can open and read all the mail to find out whether it constitutes fruits, evidence or instrumentality of a crime.”

The web host already handed over registration details for the website’s owners, but now that the government is taking aim at the site’s visitors, DreamHost argued the government’s overbroad search warrant violates both privacy laws and the Fourth Amendment.

In a blog post about the case, DreamHost wrote:

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.

A hearing for the case is set for Friday, Aug. 18.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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