Web hosting company vows to protect users from ‘overreach’ and ‘abuse of government authority’
Decrying it as “investigatory overreach” and a “clear abuse of government authority,” web hosting provider DreamHost is challenging a request it received from the Justice Department for information about visitors to a client’s site used to organize protests against President Donald Trump on his Inauguration Day.
In a blog post titled “We Fight for the Users,” the DreamHost wrote on Monday evening that the DOJ had demanded personal information of more than 1.3 million people who visited disruptj20.org, where they could find information about where anti-Trump events were taking place on January 20.
In a July 12 search warrant the DOJ said it was looking for information about violations of riot laws in Washington, D.C., by requesting “names, addresses, telephone numbers and other identifiers, e-mail addresses, business information, the length of service (including start date), means and source of payment for services (including any credit card or bank account number), and information about any domain name registration.”
The company said the overly-broad request “chills free association and the right of free speech afforded by the Constitution,” and the information the DOJ is attempting to collect “could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech…That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.”
DreamHost’s general counsel, Chris Ghazarian, has filed a legal argument (pdf) against the DOJ’s request:
In essence, the Search Warrant not only aims to identify the political dissidents of the current administration, but attempts to identify and understand what content each of these dissidents viewed on the website. The Search Warrant…fails to identify with the required particularity what will be seized by the government. It also fails to provide DreamHost with any assurance that the government will return or destroy the large portion of the information irrelevant to the government’s criminal case or cases.
DreamHost said it is also working closely with the non-profit civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation. In a blog post, Mark Rumold, senior staff attorney for EFF, wrote, “No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth, other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible. But the Fourth Amendment was designed to prohibit fishing expeditions like this.”
Ghazarian will attend a hearing on the DOJ’s request on August 18.