Trump Administration Targets Data on 1.3 Million Americans for Visiting a Website

Trump Administration Targets Data on 1.3 Million Americans for Visiting a Website:

There are two points I want to hammer home in today’s piece. First, we all need to accept that Donald Trump is not some sort of crazy aberration in U.S. politics, but rather basically just the ghastly continuation of the authoritarianism and militarism which has characterized our insane society since we experienced a civilization-wide mental breakdown following the attacks of 9/11.

I’ve written about this ongoing cultural insanity on many occasions, but most passionately in my 2013 piece, How I Remember September 11, 2001:

In the days following the collapse, all I wanted was for the towers to be rebuilt just like before. I wanted the skyline back to what I had know since the day I came into this earth at a New York City hospital to be restored exactly as I had always known it. Career-wise, I felt I should leave Wall Street. I thought about going back to graduate school for political science, or maybe even join the newly created Department of Homeland Security (yes, the irony is not lost on me). I read a lengthy tome on Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. I was an emotional and psychological mess, and it was when I was in this state of heightened distress that my own government and the military-industrial complex took advantage of me.

It wasn’t just me of course. It was an entire nation that was callously manipulated in the aftermath of that tragedy. The courage and generosity exhibited by so many New Yorkers and others throughout the country and indeed the world was rapidly transformed into terrifying fear. Fear that was intentionally injected repeatedly into our daily lives. Fear that translated into pointless wars and countless deaths. Fear that was used to justify the destruction of our precious civil rights. Fear that was used to initiate a gigantic power grab and the source of tremendous profits for the corporate-statists and crony-capitalsits. Unfortunately, that is the greatest legacy of 9/11.

If you take an honest look at Trump, what you’ll see is an authoritarian goon building upon the more marketable authoritarianism that came before him in the persons of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Many people thought that by electing Trump they would break the cycle, but the cycle is continuing with reckless abandon and will probably continue on its present course until the U.S. empire collapses on itself. (…as planned by TPTB. Financial collapse, revolution & civil war in the U.S. and all of Europe, directly followed by WW3 is the plan. – I.U.)

The second point I want to make is that our centralized authoritarian government and deep state will use all idiotic acts of violence committed by protestors and counter-protestors to target the civil liberties of the rest of us. I discussed this at length in yesterday’s post, but it bears repeating.

I consider anyone, whether they claim to be on the “right” or the “left,” who advocates street violence or attends protests armed to fight, to be a serious danger to the rest of us since their actions play directly into the best interests of oligarchs and those who wish to crack down on the public at large. I call for all honest and reasonable people across the political spectrum to denounce such tactics, and I consider anyone advocating for street violence to be an enemy of the public at large, irrespective of what or who they claim to be fighting for. As John Lennon noted:

When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face – to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.

Public acts of violence give dastardly governments the excuse they need to crack down on civil liberties. If you engage in such behavior or endorse it, you are a huge part of the problem. This isn’t a forecast or prediction either, it’s happening right now.

For example, here’s The Hill reporting on how the Department of Justice is demanding information on 1.3 million Americans who simply visited a website.

The Department of Justice has requested information on visitors to a website used to organize protests against President Trump, the Los Angeles-based Dreamhost said in a blog post published on Monday.

Dreamhost, a web hosting provider, said that it has been working with the Department of Justice for several months on the request, which believes goes too far under the Constitution.

DreamHost claimed that the complying with the request from the Justice Department would amount to handing over roughly 1.3 million visitor IP addresses to the government, in addition to contact information, email content and photos of thousands of visitors to the website, which was involved in organizing protests against Trump on Inauguration Day.

“That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment,” DreamHost wrote in the blog post on Monday. “That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.”

TechDirt also had an excellent article on the subject. Here’s an excerpt:

Not all search warrants are bad. Indeed, most of them are perfectly legitimate, and meet the qualifications under the 4th Amendment that there is probable cause of a crime being committed, and the warrant is narrowly tailored to seek out evidence to support that. But… not always. As Ken “Popehat” White explains in a recent blog post, the Justice Department has somehow obtained the mother-of-all bad search warrants while trying to track down people who were involved in protests of Donald Trump’s inauguration back in January. The government has brought felony charges against a bunch of protestors from the inauguration, and now it appears the DOJ is going on a big fishing expedition.

DreamHost has now responded in court, saying that the warrant violates the 4th Amendment and appears to endanger the 1st Amendment rights of protestors. They also claim that it violates the Privacy Protection Act and that there are some jurisdictional issues with it as well. DreamHost also has a nice blog post about the whole thing:

This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority.

Or, as the filing notes:

Where a search warrant endangers First Amendment interests, the warrant must be scrutinized with “particular exactitude” under the Fourth Amendment. See Zurcher v. Stanford Daily, 436 U.S. 547, 565 (1978). “The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.” Int’l Soc’y for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672, 701 (1992) (Kennedy, J., concurring). The government’s search warrant (“Search Warrant”) here requires non-party DreamHost, LLC (“DreamHost”) 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 Search Warrant cannot survive scrutiny under the heightened particular exactitude standard required by the presence of the First Amendment issues. It fails to identify with the required particularity what will be seized by the government. It also fails to provide DreamHost with any assurance that the government will return or destroy the large portion of the information irrelevant to the government’s criminal case or cases. These features render the Search Warrant unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. In addition, the Search Warrant violates the privacy protections of the Privacy Protection Act, a statute enacted specifically to address such instances, and is without a jurisdictional basis.

Finally, here’s Ken White of the excellent legal blog Popehat:

The Department of Justice initially used subpoenas to DreamHost to seek subscriber information about who ran the site. That’s fairly straightforward. But then they doubled down. They obtained a search warrant for an extremely broad array of data related to the site, including all stored records of access to the site or communications with the site. As written, it seems to demand data including the IP addresses of everyone who ever accessed the site and the content of every site visitor’s question or comment submitted through the site’s comment form, as well as all emails sent to or through the web site. The Department of Justice has filed a motion in the DC court where charges are pending to compel DreamHost to respond, and DreamHost has filed an opposition articulating its objections to the warrant.

DreamHost’s brief illuminates the key issues: the search warrant is dangerously overbroad, and implicates protected speech. The Department of Justice isn’t just seeking communications by the defendants in its case. It’s seeking the records of every single contact with the site — the IP address and other details of every American opposed enough to Trump to visit the site and explore political activism. It seeks the communications with and through the site of everyone who visited and commented, whether or not that communication is part of a crime or just political expression about the President of the United States. The government has made no effort whatsoever to limit the warrant to actual evidence of any particular crime. If you visited the site, if you left a message, they want to know who and where you are — whether or not you did anything but watch TV on inauguration day. This is chilling, particularly when it comes from an administration that has expressed so much overt hostility to protesters, so relentlessly conflated all protesters with those who break the law, and so deliberately framed America as being at war with the administration’s domestic enemies. 

There’s a hearing on the Department of Justice’s motion on Friday. I’ll keep an eye on the case. You should too, and please spread the word that this is what the government is trying to do.

We should all take a moment to thank DreamHost for its courageous stance. We should also take the opportunity to condemn senseless acts of violence encouraged by anyone, regardless of political affiliation. They are foolishly (or intentionally) playing right into the hands of those who wish to oppress us.

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