On July 12, the Department of Justice has issued a request to web hosting provider, DreamHost, seeking information on visitors to a website that was used to organize protests against President Trump on Inauguration Day. DreamHost has fought this request because it would amount to handing over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses, contact information and content, in what appears to be a clear threat to freedom of speech and privacy.
The broad search warrant seeks for DreamHost to turnover detailed information, including IP addresses, contact information and financial information of all visitors to the site; DreamHost already complied with the request to turn over the registration information of the owners of the website. The warrant also seeks communications and unpublished content, such as draft posts and photos.
The request will clearly have the effect of chilling freedom of speech and freedom of association. It appears that the Administration is seeking to identify dissidents who oppose President Trump, a clear threat to the First Amendment rights of the website’s visitors. One can only assume that the Administration is using the power of the DOJ to threaten and silence critics of President Trump.
For libraries, who have long championed freedom of speech and association, these reports are particularly appalling. Privacy is essential to the exercise of the First Amendment so that an individual may research, inquire and learn without having the subject of his interests scrutinized by others. Patron privacy has long be a fundamental value of libraries and in a world where so much information is now online, it is critical for protections to extend to visitors to websites. The DOJ’s warrant threatens these central tenants to a free and open democracy.
DreamHost is challenging the request, with a hearing scheduled for today. DreamHost argues that the search warrant is overly broad and violates the Fourth Amendment and privacy laws. You can read more at DreamHost’s blog post on the case.