US Justice Department demands information on anti-Donald Trump protesters' identities

DreamHost claims request would force company to hand over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses 

Chloe Farand
Tuesday 15 August 2017 15:17 BST
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A protester is dragged away from a public access point to the National Mall on 14th Street NW prior to the inauguration in Washington DC
A protester is dragged away from a public access point to the National Mall on 14th Street NW prior to the inauguration in Washington DC (Getty)

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The Department of Justice is seeking to obtain information on thousands of political dissidents by requesting the records of a website which organises protests against Donald Trump.

Web services provider DreamHost said it was challenging the request, which it believes is "a clear abuse of government authority".

The company said it had worked with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for several months following the issue of a search warrant relating to one of the platform's host sites, disruptj20.org.

The Trump administration resistance website is run by a network of activists and aims to build a framework to organise mass protests and direct action against the US President.

In a blog post, DreamHost said the DOJ had asked the Los Angeles-based company to provide the department with "all information available to us about this website, its owner, and, more importantly, its visitors".

The search warrant issued by the DOJ states that the company has to disclose all information that could be used to identify subscribers to the website, including "names, addresses, telephone numbers and other identifiers, e-mail addresses, business information, the length of service (including the start date), means and source of payments for services (including any credit card or bank account number), and information about any domain name registration".

The document adds that all information that would constitute evidence of violations of the DC Code regarding individuals who participated and organised the riots during President Trump's inauguration on 20 January will also be seized.

More than 230 people were arrested during Mr Trump's inauguration and faced charges of felony rioting.

DreamHost said that complying with the request from the DOJ would see the website host hand over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses in addition to contact information, email content and photos of thousands of people.

The company claims the information would enable to determine who simply visited the website but could also be used to identify individuals who used the online platform to express political opinions under the Constitution's First Amendment.

"That should be enough to set alarm bell off in anyone's mind," DreamHost wrote.

"This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority," it said.

DreamHost added its general counsel, Chris Ghazarian, had "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 Department of Justice has not immediately responded to The Independent's demand for comment.

DreamHost claimed it challenged the DOJ over the request but in return the department filed a motion in a Superior Court in Washington to compel the company to produce the records.

Mr Ghazarian has now filed legal arguments in opposition to the DOJ's request on behalf of DreamHost.

He wrote: "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."

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Friday.

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