DOJ search warrant seeks information on political opponents from web host

On July 12, Federal prosecutor John Borchert and Detective Greggory Pemberton (who is the treasurer of the District’s FOP, whose national organization* vocally supported Trump during the campaign) were granted a search warrant for “information associated with www.disruptj20.org that is stored at premises that is owned, maintained, controlled or operated by Dreamhost” and “that might help identify the subscribers related to those accounts or identifiers, including names, addresses, telephone numbers and other identifiers, email addresses, business information.”

This search warrant, which is being fought by DreamHost, is related to the prosecution of more than 200 people for riot, conspiracy to riot, inciting a riot, and destruction of property. The case is based on the idea that because there was a public—sometimes internet based—discussion of using black bloc techniques to disrupt inauguration day that anyone who wore black that day was part of the conspiracy.

By this logic, anyone who were to Charlottesville in a white Polo and khakis is responsible for the alleged crimes of James Fields.

Democracy in Crisis has covered the case extensively (herehere, and here) and has repeatedly pointed out that while major news outlets hyperventilate over not being called on at a press conference, reporters and others exercising their First Amendment rights are facing decades in prison.

But now, as the state will likely argue that visiting a website is proof of criminal conspiracy, the search warrant brings this threat into even starker relief. Many Americans may not go out into the street to protest. They say “well, someone broke those windows, didn’t they?” But almost everyone goes online at some point. And most people would not like to be prosecuted for the websites they visit.

“The request from the DOJ demands that DreamHost hand over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses — in addition to contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people — in an effort to determine who simply visited the website,” DreamHost wrote on its blog.

Dreamhost intends “to take whatever steps are necessary to support and shield these users from what is, in our view, a very unfocused search and an unlawful request for their personal information,” and has filed legal arguments opposing the search warrant.

*Correction: an earlier version made it appear as if the District of Columbia’s FOP Lodge vocally supported Trump. DiC regrets the error.

By | 2017-08-16T18:07:01+00:00 August 15th, 2017|

About the Author:

Baynard Woods

Baynard Woods founded Democracy in Crisis. He is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. He is the author of the book “Coffin Point: The Strange Cases of Ed McTeer, Witchdoctor Sheriff,” about a white sheriff who used hoodoo to govern a largely black county for 37 years. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy, focusing on ethics and tyranny and became a reporter in an attempt to live like Socrates. He wrote the libretto for Rhymes with Opera’s climate-change opera film “Adam’s Run.”