The Justice Department is demanding web hosting provider DreamHost turn over 1.3 million IP addresses of people who visited the website DisruptJ20.org, which was used to organize the protests against President Trump’s inauguration. The Justice Department is also seeking names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and other information about the owners and subscribers of the website. More than 200 protesters were arrested during the Inauguration Day protests and are now facing decades in prison on trumped-up charges. We are joined by Nate Cardozo, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. His group is assisting DreamHost in its opposition to the government’s search warrant.
AMY GOODMAN: The Justice Department is demanding web hosting provider DreamHost turn over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses of people who visited the website DisruptJ20.org, which was used to organize the protests against President Trump’s inauguration. The Justice Department is also seeking names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and other information about the owners and subscribers of the website. More than 200 protesters were arrested during the Inauguration Day protests and are now facing decades in prison on trumped-up charges.
For more, we go to Berkeley, California, where we’re joined by Nate Cardozo, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. His group is assisting DreamHost in its opposition to the government’s search warrant.
Nate Cardozo, welcome to Democracy Now! First, explain what exactly the government is demanding.
NATE CARDOZO: Hi, Amy. Thanks for having me. So, the government is demanding that DreamHost, which is a web hosting provider based in L.A., turn over literally every record that it has regarding one of its customers, the site DisruptJ20.org. So that would be all of the billing information, which actually the government already has via a subpoena that they issued back in January. It means all of the email that was ever sent or received from DisruptJ20.org. And, most importantly, it means the IP addresses of everyone who ever visited the site, which, apparently, according to DreamHost, is more than 1.3 million people, Americans and people around the world, including, of course, yours truly.
AMY GOODMAN: How unusual is this request?
NATE CARDOZO: We haven’t seen it quite in this context before. You know, we have seen the government make requests this broad, for instance, in the child photography context, where actually visiting a website is at least arguably capable of being a crime. In terms of this context, where the speech hosted on DisruptJ20.org was inarguably perfectly legal, we haven’t seen it before.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the website, who put it up, the point of it, and then how you are assisting DreamHost in fighting the government’s request.
NATE CARDOZO: Well, DisruptJ20.org was and remains a place for people opposed to the policies of the Trump administration to organize and protest. It was set up sometime after the election, and it was focused, obviously, hence the name, on January 20th. There were protests in D.C. and around the country on the day of the inauguration. And DisruptJ20 was a place where folks could get together and share information about how—how, where and why to protest the inauguration.
The site owner is potentially someone who EFF, my organization based here in San Francisco, may end up representing, so I’m not going to go into there. But we’ve been helping DreamHost since they received this search warrant. The general counsel of DreamHost was, frankly, shocked at the overbreadth of this search warrant and called us right away and said, you know, "Is there a way for us to fight it?" And we said, "Yeah, absolutely." DreamHost got paid outside counsel, so they didn’t—they didn’t need us, because, as a nonprofit, we work pro bono, and we generally don’t represent companies who can afford outside counsel. DreamHost got great outside counsel, filed a motion in D.C. to set aside the search warrant. And it’s my understanding, at least, that there will be a hearing today on the case.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how did they get—how did the government get such a wide-ranging search warrant?
NATE CARDOZO: Well, this is sort of a sad story about the American judiciary. The D.C. Superior Court judge who signed off on the search warrant is not young. And it’s my speculation, my uninformed speculation here, that the judge who signed the search warrant didn’t understand what he was signing off on. The search warrant itself puts all the juicy bits that the government is seeking in an attachment at the end. And in the places-to-be-searched and things-to-be-seized section of the search warrant, it just says, "records identified with DisruptJ20.org." If I’m a judge who doesn’t know an IP log from a Yule log, you know, I’m not going to understand the implications of what’s actually being sought here. The government, of course, in its order to show cause against DreamHost for refusing to turn over—for, thankfully, refusing to turn over all of this data, the government says, "You know, this is standard. We do this all the time." That may be what they told the judge, even though it’s patently false.
AMY GOODMAN: More than 200 protesters were arrested during the Inauguration Day protests, face decades in prison. How does that relate to this demand and what—and DreamHost fighting back?
NATE CARDOZO: Good question. So, under the Fourth Amendment, in order for a search warrant to issue, there has to be probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the places to be searched or things to be seized will have evidence related to that crime. The government asserts that there were crimes committed on January 20th. You know, there was some petty vandalism or whatever. The government is claiming, of course, felony rioting, which is another thing altogether.
So, the government’s theory of the case, laughable as it is, is that everyone who visited J20—DisruptJ20.org did so in order to plan a crime. That theory is simply wrong. Right? The Fourth Amendment was ratified, in large part, to prevent the government from issuing general warrants. Right? The founders were very concerned about fishing expeditions, about a warrant that says, "Let’s collect everything, regardless of whether it’s evidence of a crime or not, and sift through it." You know, what essentially the government is doing here is they’re doing the equivalent of going to a library, and instead of saying, "Give us the name of this person who checked out this book on this day," they’re telling the library, "Give us the name of everyone who’s ever checked out a book at your library, because one person may have committed vandalism after checking out a book." That’s ridiculous.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Nate Cardozo, I wanted to get your—the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s response to the web hosting company GoDaddy recently severing ties with the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer after the site posted an article mocking Heather Heyer, the anti-racist protester who was killed. You have five seconds.
NATE CARDOZO: So, we despise the sort of racist speech that Daily Stormer hosted, but we’re very uncomfortable when infrastructure providers make the decision that I’m not allowed to read that speech. That does not seem like the proper role for a company like GoDaddy to take. The remedy for bad speech is more speech. It’s not silencing the bad speaker.
AMY GOODMAN: Nate Cardozo, I want to thank you for being with us, of Electronic Frontier Foundation.