DoJ demands the details of visitors to a Trump protest website

The Department of Justice (DoJ) is demanding the details of all visitors to a website that helped to organise an anti-Trump protest. It’s seeking IP addresses, contact information, email content, and even photos.

DreamHost, the website’s hosting provider, is refusing to comply with the request. The company is due in court later this month.

"The website was used in the development, planning, advertisement and organisation of a violent riot that occurred in Washington DC on January 20, 2017," it wrote in its motion to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, which sought to compel DreamHost to hand over the information.

The website in question, disruptj20.org, is at the centre of the controversy – but it’s unclear why the DoJ wants the IP details of all visitors. No website visitor should be logged unless committing a specific crime, but some may have ended up on the site by accident or for purely research purposes without any intention of attending the protest.

Visitors may now be on a draconian watch list for daring to question their government if DreamHost loses the court case. As for numbers, there are around 1.3 million visitors whose data the DoJ is seeking.

The motion to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia suggests a “particular customer” is being sought by the DoJ. However, this does not explain why the department requires the masses of other data.

Civil liberties group, the EFF, said: "No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth, other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible."

A highly untargeted demand

In a blog post, DreamHost said it often receives valid search warrants that it complies with. On this occasion, however, it took issue. “Chris Ghazarian, our General Counsel, has taken issue with this particular search warrant for being a highly untargeted demand that chills free association and the right of free speech afforded by the Constitution.”

“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.”

DreamHost initially asked for clarification on why the breadth of the warrant was necessary, but instead of responding, the company says the DoJ filed a motion for an order to force it into handing over the records.

A hearing is due on 18th August. We’ll be following the case and will update you accordingly.

You can read the full motion here (PDF)

Are you concerned by the DoJ’s demands? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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