US prosecutors demand data to unmask every visitor to anti-Trump protest website

DreamHost refuses to hand over 1.3m IP addresses, and more, says warrant too broad


Web hosting biz DreamHost is resisting a US government search warrant to turn over data about everyone who visited a website used to coordinate anti-Trump protests.

The website, disruptj20.org, is hosted by DreamHost, and was used to organize inauguration protests on January 20, 2017, in Washington DC, according to court documents filed by the Department of Justice. The government wants all records related to the website and those who used it.

Authorities have already pursued legal action against about 200 protesters, and they are now seeking information from DreamHost that should allow them to identify other protest participants – and anyone else who showed an interest in the demos or simply passed by the site.

DreamHost says the demanded data includes over 1.3 million IP addresses of its visitors, plus the contact information, submitted comments, email content, and photos of thousands of people. These IP addresses can be used to unmask broadband and cellphone subscribers.

"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," the company said in a blog post on Monday. "That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind."

DreamHost received the government's warrant on July 20, and objected to it the following day.

A week later, the government filed a motion demanding that DreamHost show cause for resisting its order. In it, prosecutors argue that DreamHost offers no basis for claiming the warrant is overly broad.

Now DreamHost has taken its battle to the court of public opinion.

Ken White, an attorney who blogs at Popehat.com, shares DreamHost's concern about amount of data requested by the government.

"DreamHost's brief illuminates the key issues: the search warrant is dangerously overbroad, and implicates protected speech," said White. "The Department of Justice isn't just seeking communications by the defendants in its case. 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 sees the government's desire for data as particularly troubling because the Trump administration has expressed hostility toward protesters, has conflated all protesters with lawbreakers, and has characterized political opposition as being anti-American.

Troubling though this may be, it's not without precedent. The Department of Justice has a history of asking for everything, and then accepting something less if there's resistance, which doesn't happen all the time. In 2006, for example, the DoJ sought search records from at least 34 internet service providers in a quixotic effort to uphold the doomed 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA). ®

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