Who’s there? Why, the Feds, of course:
For the past several months, DreamHost has been working with the Department of Justice to comply with legal process, including a Search Warrant [pdf] seeking information about one of our customers’ websites.
At the center of the requests is disruptj20.org, a website that organized participants of political protests against the current United States administration. While we have no insight into the affidavit for the search warrant (those records are sealed), the DOJ has recently asked DreamHost to provide all information available to us about this website, its owner, and, more importantly, its visitors.
Regular readers may recall that DreamHost has been bringing my site to you since the last day of 2001. So my interest in this case is not entirely theoretical.
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.
The request from the DOJ demands that DreamHost hand over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses — in addition to contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people — in an effort to determine who simply visited the website. (Our customer has also been notified of the pending warrant on the account.)
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.
I’m pretty sure I’d be on the opposite side of the fence from the site’s operators and most of its users. But that doesn’t matter. This does:
The internet was founded — and continues to survive, in the main — on its democratizing ability to facilitate a free exchange of ideas. Internet users have a reasonable expectation that they will not get swept up in criminal investigations simply by exercising their right to political speech against the government.
We intend to take whatever steps are necessary to support and shield these users from what is, in our view, a very unfocused search and an unlawful request for their personal information.
The DOJ has appealed to the D. C. Superior Court for an order to force DreamHost to turn over all this data; DreamHost has filed arguments in opposition, and a hearing will be held Friday.
Addendum: DreamHost co-founder Dallas Kashuba is interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Update, 17 August: The hearing has been moved to the 24th. It is open to the public.