Earlier this week, DreamHost revealed that the U.S. Department of Justice has demanded that the company hand over the IP addresses of 1.2 million people who visited the #DisruptJ20 website. That site was used to coordinate protests of President Donald Trump's inauguration, among other things, and now the Justice Department wants DreamHost to share any information it has about the site and the people who interact with it.
DreamHost said the Justice Department has also demanded thousands of people's contact information, email content, and photos. The hosting company said in its blog post that these demands represent "a very unfocused search and an unlawful request for [its users'] personal information."
Now it seems the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) agrees. "One of the core principles enshrined in the Fourth Amendment is a prohibition on general searches—meaning, the government cannot simply go fishing for a wide range of information in the hope that some kind of useful evidence will turn up," the ACLU said in a blog post. "But that’s exactly what the government appears to be doing" with these demands.
This isn't the first time the organization has had to defend those protections this week. It has also continued its fight to require police to obtain a warrant for cellphone location data, an issue that will head to the Supreme Court sometime this fall. The cases aren't exactly the same—DreamHost was served with a search warrant for this data—but the underlying principle is similar.
That principle maintains that Constitutional protections must keep pace with technological innovations. The idea is that police shouldn't be able to access location information just because it was collected from a smartphone, for example, or issue a warrant "targeting" 1.2 million people who happened to visit a particular website. According to the ACLU, these efforts could undermine the First Amendment as well as the Fourth:
The DreamHost warrant in particular is likely to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights—including the right to receive information, to speak anonymously, and to associate with like-minded individuals free from the threat of government unmasking.
DreamHost said much the same. The data demanded by the Justice Department "could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment," it said, which "should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind." The company is working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to protest the warrant and protect #DisruptJ20 visitors' data.