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Dreamhost Challenges Department Of Justice Anti-Trump Records Request


Federal authorities are still investigating violent protests that disrupted Washington back in January as President Trump was being sworn into office. As part of that investigation into some 200 open cases, they want to know who checked out a website called disruptj-20.org. It was used to plan the protest. The Justice Department has obtained a warrant for records from the web hosting company involved, DreamHost. But DreamHost says that means turning over the IP addresses of more than a million people. They've slammed the warrant as a constitutional overreach.

DreamHost's co-CEO Dallas Kashuba joins us now to talk more about it. Welcome to the program.


CORNISH: So your interpretation is that this request means unmasking the IP addresses of every person who visited the site to learn more about these anti-Trump activities. Just how much would that reveal? Like, how much could the government learn about each visitor to the site?

KASHUBA: So what they're asking for is essentially every file that we have for the website. So a big part of that is the logs for every visitor. And that includes technical information about the computer you're using, not exactly where you are in the world but some information that can be tracked for that and some other information about your computer and what part of the site you visited.

CORNISH: So what problem - what specific problem do you have with the government's request or how they're going about doing this?

KASHUBA: Well typically when they're doing an investigation, they want to know something about the website itself. In this case, they've extended all the way to anyone who has casually visited the website, even if you just happen to click the link without realizing what it was.

CORNISH: Now, the Justice Department sought and did get permission from a federal judge for this request, right? That's why you're having to deal with it now. So doesn't that mean that a judge found probable cause to believe that something on the site is evidence of a crime?

KASHUBA: It may mean that. We - they don't really tell us anything. And in this case, it's actually sealed, so they haven't shared much with us. The fact is that judges don't always have the level of technical sophistication to understand exactly what they are authorizing.

CORNISH: People on the left do see this as a political issue. Do you?

KASHUBA: That's not how we're looking at it. In this case, certainly a lot of people are interested because of that. But in our - from our perspective, this is just about privacy, online privacy of individuals and everyone who's using the Internet.

CORNISH: Have you gotten a request from law enforcement like this before, and did you comply?

KASHUBA: We get a lot of requests like this. I think a couple of years ago, we did a report on it, and it was over 400 requests just that year. I think we comply with about half. But we look at all of them carefully to make sure they're valid. But in many cases, we do comply.

CORNISH: But you haven't written blog posts (laughter) about all those, right? So help us understand why you think this is unique and why you have a problem with it.

KASHUBA: So in this case, it's just the reach is much broader than anything we've ever seen before. We've been doing this for about 20 years now, and this is the first time it's been something like this. We have for months gone back and forth and tried to get them to narrow the scope because often they do start by asking for a lot, and then you get them to narrow the scope down to what they need. But in this case, they took the unusual step of compelling us to give them the information. So it felt like it was the only step we had left.

CORNISH: You know, you're in this public fight now with the Justice Department, but is there another way to resolve this, I mean legally or otherwise?

KASHUBA: Well, the next step is this hearing that's coming up. And we don't have an exact date for that yet. What we're hoping in that is that a new judge will look at it with a new set of eyes and see our counter-arguments and perhaps agree with us to some extent and get the Justice Department to narrow their requests for information.

CORNISH: What has the reaction been within the tech community because like you said, you guys get these requests all the time.

KASHUBA: Yeah. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive from everybody we've heard from. You know, all tech news outlets understand the situation. They know it's not a good idea for website visitors for any website to be tracked.

CORNISH: Dallas Kashuba is co-CEO of the web hosting service DreamHost. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KASHUBA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLD CAVE SONG, "LOVE COMES CLOSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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