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Chilling DOJ Speech, Assembly and Association Infringement Request

by Stephen Lendman (stephenlendman.org – Home – Stephen Lendman)

In late July, the Justice Department filed a motion in the District of Columbia Superior Court, requesting “names, addresses, telephone numbers and other identifiers, e-mail addresses, business information, the length of service (including start date), means and source of payment for services (including any credit card or bank account number), and information about any domain name registration.”

DreamHost, a company hosting over 1.5 million web sites, blogs and applications justifiably expressed concern, saying:

The DOJ demands it “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.”

“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. That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.”

The company hosted elements planning anti-Trump inauguration day demonstrations. Most individuals involved were peaceful, small numbers violent.

They should be held accountable for their lawless actions. Most others were involved in constitutionally protected speech, assembly and association rights. They shouldn’t have to fear prosecution. They violated no laws.

On Friday, a hearing is scheduled before DC Superior Court’s Judge Lynn Leibovitz on the DOJ’s request and DreamHost’s objection.

A search warrant dated July 12 demanded the company provide “all” information in their database about disruptj20.org, the site for organized inauguration day protests.

On August 14, the company tweeted: “DreamHost supports #freespeech. That’s why we’re pushing back on this request from the DOJ:

“We Fight for the Users…The internet was founded on its democratizing ability to facilitate a free exchange of ideas. And that’s why we’re taking a stand.”

Separately in a legal filing challenging the DOJ’s demand, company attorney Chris Ghazarian called it “a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority.”

“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.”

January 20 inauguration day events proceeded smoothly, protests largely peaceful. Over 200 others clashing with police were arrested, charged with felony rioting – defined under District of Columbia code as follows:

A DC “riot…is a public disturbance involving an assemblage of 5 or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct or the threat thereof creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons…if in the course and as a result of a riot a person suffers serious bodily harm or there is property damage in excess of $5,000, every person who willfully incited or urged others to engage in the riot shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 10 years.”

Under DC code, fines up to $25,000 may be levied on offenders, including for vandalism.

Nonviolent activists were caught up in sweeping arrests, including freelance journalists doing their jobs – a chilling precedent possibly affecting legitimate future protests, police state viciousness by any standard.

It could be much worse if DreamHost has to hand over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses, along with contact and other information.

Anyone on the list could be vulnerable to DOJ targeting – the way police states work.

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Stephen Lendman
Stephen Lendman
Stephen Lendman was born in 1934 in Boston, MA. In 1956, he received a BA from Harvard University. Two years of US Army service followed, then an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1960. After working seven years as a marketing research analyst, he joined the Lendman Group family business in 1967. He remained there until retiring at year end 1999. Writing on major world and national issues began in summer 2005. In early 2007, radio hosting followed. Lendman now hosts the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network three times weekly. Distinguished guests are featured. Listen live or archived. Major world and national issues are discussed. Lendman is a 2008 Project Censored winner and 2011 Mexican Journalists Club international journalism award recipient.