DOJ Demands Data of 1.3 Million Anti-Trump Website Visitors

If America was not in perpetual crisis mode with an avowed racist and know-nothing tyrant in the White House, and a complicit Republican Congress praising his every act, Americans may be outraged over a huge atrocity being committed in Trump’s name.

Americans are as notorious for protecting their privacy as they are exercising their constitutional rights of free speech and protesting their grievances to the government and they consider those constitutional rights as sacrosanct. However, that is irrelevant to the Trump administration that has little use for the Constitution.

In yet another attempt to silence dissent and opposition like a third-rate nation’s dictator, Trump’s Department of Justice is attempting to illegally gather private digital data of Americans who protested and opposed Trump’s ascension to the White House.

When Americans disgusted that Trump was indeed going to be inaugurated, they did the only thing possible to publicly show their mass revulsion; protest a monumental American atrocity. Now it has been revealed that Trump, through his lackey running the Justice Department, is attempting to gather digital data on over 1.3 million Americans because they visited a website dedicated to organizing a protest to Trump’s inauguration.

A Los Angeles-based web hosting provider, DreamHost, is challenging a Department of Justice search warrant demand for “any and all records, files and other information on a website that was used to organize protests against President Trump on Inauguration Day.” The Justice Department demand is, and damn well should be, “stirring alarm” among privacy and civil liberties advocates as well as the 1.3 million Americans who visited an anti-Trump website.

The Trump DOJ demands to know when people visited the site, what related webpages they looked at, as well as what kind of operating system they were using. If that’s not terrifying enough, the DOJ is also demanding all email content related to the site to identify any person, or persons, who may have corresponded with the website’s owners even if they were requesting information.

The president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, Nuala O’Connor said:

This to me on its face looks like a fishing expedition. It cannot be in this democracy that simply going to a website is [indicative] of criminal or suspicious activity.”

A law professor at American University, Jennifer Daskal, remarked that the DOJ’s lack of information about their unconstitutional effort makes it impossible to known the full scope of what the Justice Department is doing and why they are doing it. She did agree with other legal experts that the federal government’s demand for data “appears questionable.” Professor Daskal said:

It seems quite concerning and extremely over-broad — raising both First and Fourth amendment concerns. It’s targeting anyone who visited a site used to organize a protest, in a way that seriously risks chilling speech and associational rights.”

Ms. Daskal also noted that searches are supposed to be “particularized based on individualized suspicion.”

As is typically the case in America’s criminal justice system, Ms. Daskal noted that searches, and warrants to search or seize, have to be “particularized based on individualized suspicion.” Broadly demanding records and the personal digital data of over 1.3 million American citizens is not only not “particularized or individualized,” it is illegally searching and seizing private information according to the 4th Amendment. One can only presume that, like the Trump-Pence crusade to compile a federal registry of opposition and dissenting voters, this latest attempt is to construct a veritable enemy’s list for future intimidation by the Trump administration, the Republican Party, and Vladimir Putin.

Although the DOJ’s original demand for the data came within seven days of Trump’s inauguration, the hosting site DreamHost resisted on privacy right grounds. So Trump’s DOJ went to a ‘Superior Court” on July 12 for a search warrant; no federal court would issue such a warrant. The DOJ told the Court that they had probable cause to believe that DreamHost has “property, namely stored electronic communications including but not limited to digital files, records, messages, and photographs” that could be used as evidence against the D.C. anti-Trump protestors on Inauguration Day.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) are joining DreamHost in its fight against the DOJ’s warrant. The CCIA president and CEO, Ed Black, said yesterday that:

The U.S. government itself has criticized countries that target political dissent with criminal process. We would urge DOJ to consider the consequences of such requests both in terms of emboldening countries like China and in the message this sends to democratic allies.

The wholly unconstitutional issue is finally bringing public scrutiny on Sessions acting on Trump’s behalf to use the DOJ to silence dissent and opposition. That is the spot-on assessment of Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) who called for Sessions to drop the issue. Mr. Deutch said:

When the government attempts to seize personal information, including email and physical addresses, for more than a million Americans who visited a website, it shows that the president is willing to use his Justice Department and the machinery of government to go after his political opponents.”

Judge Andrew Napolitano, no real friend of demonstrators or protestors was on Fox News and even he said there are “very serious constitutional problems” with the DOJ’s demand and search warrant. In fact, Napolitano is certain the DOJ was forced to go to a county’s superior court to get the warrant because “no federal judge would sign it.”

This search warrant that the government got has a lot of us scratching our heads. There is not [a] criminal investigation, there is no evidence that the ID of these people is going to produce evidence of a crime, and these things are absolutely required before a search warrant can be granted. 

Could you imagine if [former attorney general] Eric Holder did this to find out who the protesters against Barack Obama were? I dare say there would be a different reaction than what we are seeing today. … There should be an uproar over this.”

The case is not the first instance of the government asking tech companies for details on Trump dissidents. Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) actually attempted to pressure Twitter to reveal information to identify account holders whose messages on the social media platform that were critical of Trump. The DHS ultimately withdrew the request and it isn’t clear if it was because they would be deluged with millions of anti-Trump accounts or if the unconstitutionality of the ‘request’ became too evident.

Lawyers for the hosting site, DreamHost, seem to believe the entire issue is meant to frighten Americans into “self-censorship” out of fear of the Trump administration’s prying eyes and retribution. DreamHost’s general counsel, Chris Ghazarian said:

It’s going to chill speech. Potentially, people will stop visiting these types of websites at the risk of their information being turned over to DOJ. Companies should not be worried about untargeted mass collections of user data that we store on our servers under warrants like this.

And, American citizens should not have to be worried about their personal data, digital or otherwise, being monitored or targeted for who knows what kind of harassment, simply because they oppose the fascist in the White House. This is the kind of atrocity the American government used to condemn in nations ruled by tyrannical dictators notorious for seeking out and terrorizing the opposition and dissenting voices. That it started happening here only seven days after Trump’s inauguration protests speaks volumes to how quickly America fell victim to a tyrannical dictator who is using the Justice Department to go after his critics.