I used to have DreamHost as a webhost. We parted ways, but I always admired and appreciated that they reliably stood up for their customers — including me — in the face of bogus legal threats seeking to suppress speech.
This week they're standing up admirably for internet users once again, this time in the face of an overbroad and deeply concerning search warrant issued in connection with Inauguration Day protests. Their blog post about it is here.
Washington D.C. prosecutors have charged and prosecuted inauguration protesters for crimes including riot and destruction of property. And without a doubt there were some crimes committed by some protesters, including assault and destruction of property. But the prosecutors' investigation has taken an alarming turn. They've been focusing on a web site called disruptj20.org, which they allege was used to coordinate illegal behavior. Here's how the site described its goal:
We’re planning a series of massive direct actions that will shut down the Inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations–the Inaugural parade, the Inaugural balls, you name it. We’re also planning to paralyze the city itself, using blockades and marches to stop traffic and even public transit. And hey, because we like fun, we’re even going to throw some parties.
The site also contains a large about of information about protest and discussions of anti-Trump advocacy.
The Department of Justice initially used subpoenas to DreamHost to seek subscriber information about who ran the site. That's fairly straightforward. But then they doubled down. They obtained a search warrant for an extremely broad array of data related to the site, including all stored records of access to the site or communications with the site. As written, it seems to demand data including the IP addresses of everyone who ever accessed the site and the content of every site visitor's question or comment submitted through the site's comment form, as well as all emails sent to or through the web site. The Department of Justice has filed a motion in the DC court where charges are pending to compel DreamHost to respond, and DreamHost has filed an opposition articulating its objections to the warrant.
DreamHost's brief illuminates the key issues: the search warrant is dangerously overbroad, and implicates protected speech. 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. It seeks the communications with and through the site of everyone who visited and commented, whether or not that communication is part of a crime or just political expression about the President of the United States. The government has made no effort whatsoever to limit the warrant to actual evidence of any particular crime. If you visited the site, if you left a message, they want to know who and where you are — whether or not you did anything but watch TV on inauguration day. This is chilling, particularly when it comes from an administration that has expressed so much overt hostility to protesters, so relentlessly conflated all protesters with those who break the law, and so deliberately framed America as being at war with the administration's domestic enemies.
There's a hearing on the Department of Justice's motion on Friday. I'll keep an eye on the case. You should too, and please spread the word that this is what the government is trying to do.
Edited to add: Please feel free to disregard all my analysis, because someone linked here on Reddit and an engineer says I'm not a lawyer or anything and she can tell that the law is wrong because of the law she knows.Copyright 2017 by the named Popehat author.