DreamHost is considering its next move after a judge last week ordered the Los Angeles-based web hosting company to comply with a government warrant seeking information about subscribers to the anti-Trump website disruptj20.org.
DreamHost’s general counsel Chris Ghazarian said that while overall he sees the decision as a win, the company would have preferred even more content being removed from the warrant or the warrant being invalidated all together.
“Now our team and I are considering our next steps which are essentially whether or not we are going to appeal, and we’ll make that decision very soon,” Ghazarian said in an interview with The WHIR.
Chief Judge Robert Morin ruled on Thursday that DreamHost had to turn over subscriber data, but under a much narrower scope than first anticipated. Morin told the District of Columbia Superior Court that in an order to “balance the First Amendment protections and the government’s need for this information” he would oversee which data prosecutors’ intend to seize and use of the data to ensure it is limited to individuals connected to the riots.
Ghazarian said that the Department of Justice (DoJ) pulled back quite a bit in what they initially asked for, including removing the request for IP addresses.
“The entire process overall has been a win because I don’t think anybody really expected the government number one to back down from their original warrant, especially since we tried to have a professional conversation with them to discuss the scope and instead they hit us with this court order,” he said. “Two, I think that the courts application of all these protections is a step in the right direction in that it shows that the court is acknowledging the constitutional concerns that DreamHost and everybody else has.”
“The court is actually going to be overseeing quite a bit of the production of data and the process that is going to be happening in the background,” he said.
Unlike many court cases that play out in the web hosting industry, the DreamHost case garnered international attention, with the news being covered across the mainstream media. The company was receiving so many requests from people to help out that it started a crowdfunding campaign.
“We have received a ton of support not just from existing customers but from the internet at large, too. We’re receiving emails to this day saying ‘please fight’, ‘you’re doing great work’, and for a lot of people this is a political issue but for us it is really not that at all, this is actually a case of an overly broad records request, that’s what started this,” Brett Dunst, DreamHost VP corporate communications said.
“We didn’t set out to be some type of crusader in this particular instance it’s just that this particular request has garnered a lot of public interest because of the privacy implications,” he said.
While Dreamhost receives hundreds of court orders a year, this one was unlike anything it had seen before. Ghazarian said that when they received the request in July, they “balked at the amount of data it was requesting.” Then it did what DreamHost always does: review and make sure it is a valid court order or subpoena, and then have a conversation with the Justice Department to address its concerns.
Though the public response has been overwhelming, DreamHost has noticed one particularly quiet group.
“It’s kind of interesting how quiet a lot of other hosting companies and ISPs are at this time with this disruptj20.org case,” Ghazarian said. “I think I’m willing to bet that a lot of these other hosts or companies have probably blindly complied with similar warrants in the past and now they’re looking at DreamHost and thinking, ‘oh my God we probably shouldn’t have done that’.”
One group that has spoken out is the i2Coalition, a coalition of internet infrastructure groups, who see the decision as one that will have an “immediate impact” on its members businesses.
“The i2Coalition appreciates the thought Chief Judge Morin put into his decision. However, we disagree with substantial aspects of it,” David Snead, i2Coalition Co-Founder, Board, and Policy Chair said. “The decision fails to take into account the vast quantity of information that will be provided by DreamHost. Chief Judge Morin’s decision, in essence, requires DreamHost to give the Department of Justice a ‘master key’ to its apartment building, trusting that the Department of Justice will ignore and not use information that may be interesting to them, but not currently relevant. Not only does this decision impact fundamental Constitutional rights, it will chill businesses across the country. This will likely have an immediate impact on our member’s business, by increasing their costs, undermining consumer trust in the U.S. Internet industry, and casting doubt on the operation of both the First and Fourth Amendments as applied to our digital lives.”
DreamHost has been in touch with the i2Coalition, and shares in its concerns around the First and Fourth Amendment, Ghazarian said.