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DOJ Demands Files On Anti-Trump Activists, And A Web Hosting Company Resists

DOJ Demands Files On Anti-Trump Activists, And A Web Hosting Company Resists

Postby smix » Wed Aug 16, 2017 4:54 am

DOJ Demands Files On Anti-Trump Activists, And A Web Hosting Company Resists
NPR

URL: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/ ... ny-resists
Category: Politics
Published: August 15, 2017

Description: At the intersection where protections against unreasonable search and seizure meet the rights to free speech and association, there's now a web hosting company called DreamHost. The California-based company is resisting a Department of Justice warrant that demands it hand over all files related to DisruptJ20.org, a website created by one of its customers to plan and announce actions intended to disrupt President Trump's inauguration. After Inauguration Day protests in Washington, D.C. turned violent, 230 people were arrested and charged with felony rioting. In gathering evidence for the nearly 200 still-open cases in D.C. court, the Justice Department issued a warrant that DreamHost says is so broad it would require handing over the logs of 1.3 million visits to the website. The company called the warrant "a highly untargeted demand that chills free association and the right of free speech afforded by the Constitution. ... This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority." A week after the inauguration, DreamHost says the Justice Department asked it for records relating to the person who had registered the site - such as the person's physical and email addresses - and it complied. But in July, the government issued a new warrant that asked for additional materials: "all files, databases, and database records" related to DisruptJ20's website, as prosecutors moved to seize all information "involving the individuals who participated, planed [sic], organized, or incited the January 20 riot." DreamHost resisted providing the newly-requested information, citing concerns that the warrant was "overbroad" and may result in "overseizure." But the Justice Department said DreamHost must provide the information regardless. "DreamHost's opinion of the breadth of the warrant does not provide it with a basis for refusing to comply with the Court's search warrant and begin an immediate production," U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips wrote in a motion to the D.C. Superior Court, which will soon hold a hearing regarding the matter. In its filing with the court, DreamHost says the warrant requires the company "to turn over every piece of information it has about every visitor to a website expressing political views concerning the current administration":
"This information includes the IP address for the visitor, the website pages viewed by the visitor, even a detailed description of software running in the visitor's computer. 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. The Search Warrant also includes a demand that DreamHost disclose the content of all e-mail inquiries and comments submitted from numerous private e-mail accounts and prompted by the website, all through a single sweeping warrant."

The Justice Department told NPR it won't comment on the case aside from the court filings. Is the government really asking for all those visitor logs? "Yes, they definitely are," says Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Mark Rumold. EFF advocates for internet privacy and free speech, and has advised DreamHost in its case. Rumold tells NPR that when DreamHost first approached EFF about responding to the warrant, he guessed "that DOJ would realize how broad the warrant was, and say, oh you know, in fact we're not actually looking for IP logs for everyone who's ever visited the site," and would narrow its request accordingly. But instead, the government insisted on DreamHost's compliance with the warrant as written. "It always raises red flags when the government is trying to pry into the organization or the association of its political opponents," Rumold says. "That said, the DOJ has apparently demonstrated to a judge that there is probable cause to believe that something on this site is evidence of a crime." But, he says, the logs of everyone who ever visited the site, along with when and where they viewed it — "there's no way that that's all evidence of a crime." "It's always troubling when the government seizes far more information than it could ever use," he says. "That's just generally a problem regardless of the investigation. I think what's particularly unique about this case is that the crime and the topic that is being investigated is a group of people who are politically opposed to the president." For administrators of websites that involve political dissent or discussion, Rumold says best practices would dictate not keeping logs of visitor data. And Legba Carrefour, who was one of the organizers for DisruptJ20, says the site's administrators didn't keep this data for DisruptJ20.org—DreamHost did. "We would not keep records on who visits our website," Carrefour told NPR. "We don't want to know, and we don't care. But also I'm sure like half of those are probably cops," checking to see what the group had planned for the inauguration. Carrefour said DisruptJ20 used what's called "the open organizing model": Instead of making plans in secret, they posted everything they intended to do right on their website. They held biweekly meetings to audiences of 200 or 300 people at a time, in places like church basements, which he assumes police attended. "We feel like open organizing is a better way to recruit people, and also sort of a more honest, forthright, and successful way of organizing mass mobilizations." Carrefour said he was "surprised and impressed" that DreamHost is "going to the lengths they are to resist" the government's request. DreamHost says its stance isn't a political one. "This has become a political issue for many - but our interest in this case truly isn't that specific," DreamHost spokesman Brett Dunst wrote in an email to NPR. "We're completely content-agnostic in this. For DreamHost this is simply an over-broad request for records, and we feel obligated to contest it." He said DreamHost keeps server logs in order to manage the sites of its 400,000-plus customers and identify issues like Distributed Denial of Service attacks. "We only retain those logs for a very brief time," Dunst wrote. "The DOJ served us with a preservation notice immediately after the inauguration, which is why we still have access to that data in this case." The Justice Department's demanded for the logs has troubling implications, says Georgetown University law professor Paul Ohm, who formerly worked as an attorney in the Department of Justice's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. "It's disturbing to me," Ohm tells NPR, "that with a single warrant, signed by a single judge — especially given the speech implications of this particular website — it's disturbing to me that that could be the single key that unlocks the political and speech habits of I-don't-know-how-many-people." He estimated that 1.3 million visitor logs could represent thousands of people, or hundreds of thousands. And he said that the framers of the U.S. Constitution specifically wanted to avoid practices like British general warrants, which gave sweeping access to search any location with a single piece of paper. "This smells like a general warrant," says Ohm. "I think the framers would recognize a single request to get the reading habits of tens of thousands of people to essentially be the closest thing we have in modern times to a general warrant." Ohm says courts have often considered how rights against illegal search and seizure begin to overlap with free speech rights – and "this case is tailor-made to sit at that intersection." "This site is about speech. It's about listening, which is also kind of a First Amendment right," he says. "It's about assembly. It's about petitioning the government. And so I think it's not going to be hard for the lawyers in this case to say this isn't just about policing and the limits of policing. This is about disruption of speech. And so for all those reasons, it really raises the stakes on this particular litigation and it means it's going to get a close look from the courts."
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DOJ drops request for IP addresses from Trump resistance site

Postby smix » Wed Aug 23, 2017 3:31 pm

DOJ drops request for IP addresses from Trump resistance site
The Hill

URL: http://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity ... resistance
Category: Politics
Published: August 22, 2017

Description: The Department of Justice (DOJ) is dropping its controversial request for visitor IP addresses related to an anti-Trump website. The government said in a brief released Tuesday that it has "no interest" in the 1.3 million IP addresses related to the website disruptj20.org. It says it is solely focused on information that could constitute evidence related to criminal rioting on Inauguration Day. “The Warrant — like the criminal investigation — is singularly focused on criminal activity,” the reply brief states. “It will not be used for any other purpose.” Privacy and civil liberties advocates were up in arms last week when the web hosting company DreamHost publicized a July 12 search warrant for information related to disruptj20.org, which was used to organize protests on Inauguration Day. DreamHost said complying with the request would amount to handing over roughly 1.3 million visitor IP addresses and other information about visitors to the site. Lawyers for DreamHost opposed the warrant, arguing it raised First and Fourth Amendment concerns. “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,” the company’s lawyers said in a legal argument opposing the request. In response, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., on Monday moved to amend the search warrant to DreamHost so that it specifies that the company should not disclose records that constitute HTTP request and error logs related to the website disruptj20.org. “What the government did not know when it obtained the Warrant — what it could not have reasonably known — was the extent of visitor data maintained by DreamHost that extends beyond the government’s singular focus in this case of investigating the planning, organization, and participation in the January 20, 2017, riot,” the reply brief states. The modified attachment to the search warrant also states that information requested from DreamHost should be limited to all records and information from between July 1, 2016, and Jan. 20, 2017. This information does not include content of unpublished draft publications for the website or records that constitute HTTP request and error logs that would reveal the IP addresses. The brief also specifies that the information is being requested in connection with the ongoing investigation into the rioting that occurred on Inauguration Day. More than 200 people have been indicted on rioting charges related to the protests. “The government values and respects the First Amendment right of all Americans to participate in peaceful political protests and to read protected political expression online. This Warrant has nothing to do with that right,” the government states in the reply brief. “The Warrant is focused on evidence of the planning, coordination and participation in a criminal act — that is, a premeditated riot. The First Amendment does not protect violent, criminal conduct such as this.” A lawyer for DreamHost celebrated the development as a win in a statement Tuesday evening, but said that the company still has First and Fourth Amendments concerns that it plans to address in a separate filing and at an upcoming hearing. "The government has now withdrawn entirely its unlawful and highly problematic request for any data relating to the visitors of the website and any unpublished data subject to the Privacy Protection Act," said Raymond Aghaian, the DreamHost counsel. "This is a tremendous win for DreamHost, its users and the public. There remains, unfortunately, other privacy and First and Fourth Amendment issues with the search warrant." The government is asking the Superior Court of D.C. to compel DreamHost to produce the information requested in the warrant. A hearing on the issue has been schedule for Thursday morning before Chief Judge Robert Morin.
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