In what is shaping up to be a contentious battle over privacy rights and free speech, the Department of Justice has formally requested that web hosting firm ‘DreamHost’ turn over 1.3 million IP addresses and other information to ‘unmask‘ visitors to the anti-Trump Antifa website ‘disruptj20.org,’ as part of the investigation into crimes committed on and around the January 20 inauguration. DreamHost has challenged the request, claiming the scope of data requested violates the first and fourth amendments because it is too broad.
DisruptJ20.org was registered in October of 2016 by the ‘DC Anti-fascist Coalition,’ and promoted along with the hashtag #DisruptJ20 as a central resource for anti-Trump protesters to coordinate various plots over social media intended disrupt the presidential inauguration on and around January 20. The website connected users through mailing lists and planned meet-ups, and provided a calendar of anarchistic events as well as resources to help people prepare for the mayhem. The site also provides a ‘legal guide’ for those arrested.
Of note, organizers Luke Kuhn and Colin Dunn were caught on hidden camera at the infamous Comet Ping Pong Pizza restaurant in Washington DC, where they divulged plans to release butyric acid at the “Deploraball” Inauguration party, as well as “a series of clusterf*ck blockades, blockades of all the major ingress points in the city, shutting down major bridges and highway access points, as well as shutting down metro rail.” (video 1, video 2)
As a result of the undercover sting, both men in the video were arrested along with a third – however after inauguration related chaos ensued, much of which was coordinated through the DisruptJ20 website, 230 ‘black-bloc‘ protesters were arrested and subsequently indicted on felony rioting charges after the “anti-fascists” rioted in the streets – smashing storefronts, setting a limousine on fire, and injuring six police officers.
Following the inauguration riots, the Department of Justice served DisruptJ20 website host, DreamHost, with a search warrant – requesting over 1.3 million IP addresses, as well as contact information, emails, photos, and browsing habits of visitors to the Antifa website.
DreamHost is currently challenging the request in court, and has hearing scheduled for Friday. In its most recent filing, the company claims “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”.
While authorities need to be able to gather evidence used in to help prosecute crimes – especially against violent leftists who have committed countless crimes in the name of tolerance, scooping up a shotgun blast of personal information from up to 1.3 million people sets a dangerous precedent – as it effectively opens the door to targeted data collection on all Americans, right down to browsing habits.
“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,” said DreamHost General Council Chris Ghazarian in a legal filing opposing the request.
Given recent revelations of the Obama administration’s illegal unmasking of thousands of Americans during the 2016 election, people are more aware than ever of the risk of government malfeasance when it comes to collecting, storing, and misusing the information of private citizens and organizations. Even if the Trump administration (packed with holdovers) promises to treat personal information with the utmost discretion, and somehow we could trust that promise – history has shown that the next despot to come along would gladly use it to target groups of people via illegal surveillance, tax records, or court-ordered production of a website’s user data – perhaps even the one you’re on right now…
Maybe the DOJ is attempting to use a hammer when a scalpel would suffice?