The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has formally requested that the IP addresses of 1.3 million people that visited an anti-Trump protest organizing website, disruptj20.org, be handed over – along with their contact information, email addresses and content, and photograph uploads.
DreamHost, a Los Angeles-based web hosting provider, has explained in a blog post that the request came through a few months ago, and that they are challenging the request.
The company explain that this “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.”
“This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority.”
The website in question is a left-leaning protest nexus. Its primary mission was to disrupt the inauguration of President Trump back in January via peaceful means.
“We’re planning a series of massive direct actions that will shut down the Inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations – the Inaugural parade, the Inaugural balls, you name it,” they explained at the time, under their Q&A section. “We’re also planning to paralyze the city itself, using blockades and marches to stop traffic and even public transit. And hey, because we like fun, we’re even going to throw some parties.”
The founders cite the “direct action” of those at Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the “ongoing resistance” at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not you agree with the goals of these organizations. Protest groups like these use civil disobedience, but they are not founded on ideals of violence or extremism – no matter what certain news anchors on Fox News claim.
The DoJ’s request, then, is highly irregular. Such massive online warrants are normally used when it comes to illegal sexual imagery, drug distribution sites, terrorism, or caches of pirated movies. The right to arrange protests is rarely, if ever, investigated in this way.
The debate over anonymity online is a complex one. Balancing the concerns of the individual citizen – and their right to privacy – with the need to root out dangerous collections of people, or to identify violent or extremist ideologues, is far from easy.
Nevertheless, the current administration seems to be quite keen on infringing on the privacy of peaceful dissenters. Just recently, a voter fraud commission set up by the President to investigate a demonstrable non-event demanded to know the voting history, party affiliation, and home address of every single voter in the US – and almost every single state refused.
This latest incident, then, is par for the course.