This demand is worse than it seems on the surface, due to what it could foreshadow and set as a precedent.
The justice department is demanding that web hosting provider DreamHost hand over, among many other things, 1.3m IP addresses – essentially everyone who has ever visited an anti-Trump protest site called disruptj20.org that was organizing protests surrounding Trump inauguration in January.
Dream Host revealed the surveillance demand on Monday on their blog, also saying they were going to court to challenge the order. Dream Host called it “a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority” and explained that the “information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution”.
But more importantly, think about who would be affected by this legal order: anyone merely searching for information on protesting 100% legally before the inauguration, news buffs curious about what events were happening in Washington DC on inauguration day, journalists looking for what events to cover, even Trump supporters wondering what the opposition is planning.
What the Department of Justice is saying, essentially, is that people don’t have the right to read anything related to civil disobedience without fear that the government will attempt to identify them and potentially put them under surveillance.
It’s not just a gross fourth amendment privacy violation, but free speech rights as well. The constitution not only guarantees the right to free speech, but also the freedom of association and the freedom to read information otherwise protected by the constitution. Anyone who visited this site were clearly within their rights to do so, and to think that the government could gather information on them is chilling to the core.
If this extraordinary broad legal order was allowed to stand, Jeff Sessions and the justice department could extend the same type of legal order to a whole host of situations.
What if they wanted to track down immigrants who look at websites describing how to avoid suspicion? Or monitor websites that organize Black Lives Matter protests or anti-fascist actions? Or any other website that argues that a law is unjust and should not be followed? Or what if they issued a court order to the Guardian or the New York Times asking for every visitor to their secure tips page that may or may not have sent them a leaked document?