Web hosting provider Dreamhost is fighting a search warrant from the Department of Justice demanding information on all the people who visited a site coordinating protests on Inauguration Day. The DOJ wants all data available about those who visited the site disruptj20.org, a Dreamhost-based site that offered logistics and information about Inauguration Day protests. The web provider called the warrant “unfocused” and “unlawful” in a post on its blog:
The request from the [Justice Department] demands that DreamHost hand over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses — in addition to contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people — in an effort to determine who simply visited the website,” DreamHost said in Monday’s post [emphasis theirs]. “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.”
While some might shrug and say, “So what? They were protesting Trump and deserve what they get,” the truth is that this is an incredibly blatant violation of Constitutional rights.
Free speech has, at its core, the ability to speak out against the government without fear of repercussion. It means that Americans should be able to visit any website without worrying that the DOJ is going to come along and demand all of their information.
The other issue with this warrant is that visiting a website does not automatically constitute endorsement, support, or even mild interest. Plenty of people visit sites like thinkprogress.org, itsgoingdown.org, and other anti-Trump sites for all manner of purposes that don’t involve support. Law enforcement officers may visit to keep track of what they can expect and where. Civilians may visit to know what areas in their city to avoid on certain days when protests are occurring. Intelligence analysts may visit to track protests and predict violence trends, and Constitutionalist activists may frequent the site to coordinate counter-protests. Under the DOJ’s warrant, all of their information will be vacuumed up as well.
Chris Ghazarian, general counsel for Dreamhost, told BuzzFeed that the DOJ was way out of line:
I see this as prosecutorial overreach by the DOJ. Regardless of your political affiliation, you should be concerned that anyone can be targeted for merely visiting a website legally disseminating political news. The only thing this will achieve is to cause fear of exposure when participating in protected associational rights.
Ghazarian has reason to be concerned. Facebook is fighting a related order. If one believes in constitutional rights, then the rights of all people must be protected – not just those with whom we agree.
Would we still be okay with it if it were Obama or Clinton, and the DOJ wanted the records of those who visit sites like Patriot Prayer, or information on the members of constitutional groups like the III% or Oathkeepers? Of course not – and therein lies the problem.
The Trump administration has no business chasing people just because they protest the president, and the American people have no business looking the other way because they don’t agree with the politics of the targets.