Every person that has visited an anti-Trump website is in the process of unmasked by the US government, and privacy advocates say this is an unconstitutional fishing expedition for political dissidents.
This move seems like an escalation of the campaign against anti-Trump activities by the Department of Justice, and it includes the harsh prosecution of the protesters on the inauguration day.
The Department of Justice served a search warrant to a website-hosting company DreamHost demanding every piece of information they had related to a website that coordinated protesters during new president’s inauguration. The warrant covers the owners and operators of the website, but also demands the IP addresses of 1.3 million visitors, date and time of their visit included, as well as their browser and operating system information.
Chris Ghazarian, general counsel for DreamHost says that this is a prosecutorial overreach by a highly politicized Department of Justice and that it raises a concern when people are targeted only because they visited a website.
The warrant was made public on Monday, and the same day DreamHost announced that they plan to challenge the government in court. Department of Justice declined to comment, and a hearing should be held on Friday.
The government has already had its clashes with the activists, prosecuting the ones arrested on 20 January after protests in Washington DC. In April, the US attorney’s office in Washington DC charged more than 217 people with identical crimes, including felony rioting.
Ghazarian said that the website gave the government limited customer information about the owner of the website a week after the protests happened, but the government came back in July and asked for more information.
Ghazarian said that the only ones standing between the government and tens of thousands of people are the DreamHost’s employees themselves, and they want to keep the people protected.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has been advising DreamHost, characterized the warrant as “unconstitutional” and “a fishing expedition”.
Senior staff attorney Mark Rumold said that he can’t think of a good enough reason for doing such a thing except for casting your net as broadly as possible to justify millions of user logs.
While the IP addresses cannot uniquely identify the users, they do link to a specific physical address if a person doesn’t use anything to mask it.
These types of wide-reaching warrants for user data are usually used when it comes to illegal sites such as pirated movies distributors or child pornography websites, but they are rarely used for speech.
Rumold added that he is glad that DreamHost is not letting this one pass that easily and says that the website is pure first amendment advocacy.