Commentary

DreamHost Challenges Warrant For Data About Visitors To Anti-Trump Site

In January, the web site disruptj20.org helped to organize Inauguration Day protests against President Donald Trump.

Some of those protests turned violent, resulting in the indictment of 200 people so far. Now, the Department of Justice wants information about all of disruptj20.org's 1.3 million visitors.

In July, law enforcement authorities convinced a District of Columbia Superior Court judge to sign a search warrant requiring the protest site's hosting company, DreamHost, to turn over information including IP addresses of all visitors and the pages viewed by them.

DreamHost is challenging that search warrant in court. The company makes several arguments, including that people have the right to read political material anonymously.

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"This Court should not permit the government to trample upon the privacy of the individuals interacting with the website and force DreamHost to produce the electronic information that would not only identify who they are, but specifically what each of these individuals viewed, read or the political content that they were interested in," DreamHost argues in its legal papers.

It's worth noting that DreamHost isn't the first company facing sweepingly broad demands for information about web users -- and it probably won't be the last.

For instance, in March police officials in Edina, Minnesota obtained a warrant requiring Google to provide data about anyone in the area who searched for the name of a local crime victim.

And several years ago, authorities in New York obtained a warrant requiring Facebook to turn over information about nearly 400 account holders as part of an investigation into fraud.

In 2010, North Carolina tax officials demanded that Amazon provide information about state residents who made online purchases. A group of state residents successfully argued that the request violated their free speech rights to purchase books and movies anonymously.

For its part, the DOJ says DreamHost has no valid grounds to contest the warrant. A judge in Washington is expected to hear arguments on DreamHost's challenge soon.

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