UPDATE: A District of Columbia court has ordered DreamHost to obey a revised warrant from the Department of Justice, requiring them to provide information about its visitors, Uproxx reports.
Chief Judge Robert E. Morin of the Superior Court of Washington, D.C., ruled that the site must comply with the amended warrant which includes "added protections" to secure the data of innocent site visitors.
The DOJ backtracked its initial request for 1.3 million IP addresses:
“The government has no interest in records relating to the 1.3 million IP addresses that are mentioned in DreamHost’s numerous press releases and Opposition brief," the agency reportedly announced.
Apparently, the DOJ's main concern is “a small and focused group of individuals” who visited the site and were involved in violent protests on Inauguration Day.
However, even with these new revisions, DreamHost attorney Raymond Aghaian remains reluctant to adhere to the DOJ's requests.
“We think that having the government review the records, having the government have access to the information of the public and as the court has deemed, the innocent third party users, having them see that information and identify who these political dissidents were is problematic," Aghaian said, according to The Hill. "When it comes to sensitive First Amendment issues such as this one, it should not be the case where the government gets to rummage through material to determine whether something is valid or not.”
While the amended warrant may be slightly less intrusive, it doesn't suddenly erase the fact that this intimidating investigation strategy is a violation of privacy and as such, discourages demonstrators from exercising their right to protest.
In yet another tyrannical anti-privacy push, the United States government under President Donald Trump's leadership is seeking to unmask the IP addresses of people who visited an anti-Trump website during the president's inauguration.
According to a warrant against website-hosting company DreamHost sought by the Department of Justice (DOJ), officials are looking into obtaining the IP addresses of 1.3 million internet users who visited www.disruptj20.org to coordinate anti-Trump protests during the inauguration.
The warrant was served to the hosting company on July 17, and the government is seeking all information related to that particular website. Due to the nature of this warrant, it covers individuals who run the site as well as anyone who visited it, including the dates and times of each visit.
Because this warrant would expose users who were effectively involved in protests against the president, one could make the case that this action consists of persecution of people critical of the current administration. And that's exactly what Chris Ghazarian, DreamHost's general counsel, said.
“This specific case and this specific warrant are pure prosecutorial overreach by a highly politicized department of justice under [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions,” he said.
While he added that the company has already provided the government with “limited customer information about the owner of the website” once it received a grand jury subpoena just one week after the protests, he also claimed that everyone “should be concerned that anyone should be targeted simply for visiting a website” and that the company will fight back, taking the case to court.
“We’re a gatekeeper between the government and tens of thousands of people who visited the website,” Ghazarian stated. “We want to keep them protected.”
This isn't the first time the government has gone after protesters involved in anti-Trump demonstrations during inauguration.
In April, the attorney general's Washington, D.C., office filed a single indictment charging with 217 people with various crimes that ranged from urging or inciting riots to conspiracy and assaulting officers. But going after the IP addresses of innocent Americans exercising their First Amendment rights, Electronic Frontier Foundation's senior staff attorney Mark Rumold said, is just unconstitutional.
“I can’t conceive of a legitimate justification other than casting your net as broadly as possible to justify millions of user logs,” he said. “What [the DOJ] would be getting is a list of everyone who has ever been interested in attending these protests or seeing what was going on at the protests and that’s the troubling aspect. It’s a short step after you have the list to connect the IP address to someone’s identity.”
Hopefully, DreamHost can successfully fight the U.S. government in court to protect its users' personal information. Otherwise, this could represent a precedent that could be used by other government agencies. In no time, our privacy would be openly violated by any agency to go after political opponents.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Amr Alfiky