US company DreamHost defends private data from Trump administration

22 Aug 2017

Anti-Trump protestors on inauguration day. Image: Nicole S Glass/Shutterstock

DreamHost takes on the US Department of Justice with crowdfunding campaign.

Los Angeles-based web-hosting company DreamHost is ramping up efforts to battle against the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in a dispute over data.

The trouble for DreamHost started when a demand was issued to the company earlier this year for more than 1m IP addresses, in order to identify users who visited, a website the company hosts, set up to coordinate mass protests on US president Donald Trump’s inauguration day.

Prosecutorial overreach

Future Human

In making the matter public, DreamHost has sparked debate about the request from tech and civil liberty communities, including the ACLU.

Chris Ghazarian, general counsel for DreamHost, described the move to the Los Angeles Times as “a pure prosecutorial overreach by a politicised justice department, allowing the Trump administration to use prosecutors to silence critics”.

A crowdfunding campaign has been set up to deal with mounting legal fees.

Preserving online democracy

DreamHost is arguing that the DOJ warrant violates both the first and fourth amendments of the US constitution. It is of the belief that site visitors should be permitted to keep their identities private, and warns of a chilling effect on free speech if warrants of this nature continue to be issued.

In a blog post updated on 18 August, DreamHost explained that the DOJ did not respond to its concerns about the quantity of private data requested. Instead, it filed a motion asking for an order to compel DreamHost to give up the records.

The statement made DreamHost’s position clear.

“The internet was founded – and continues to survive, in the main – on its democratising ability to facilitate a free exchange of ideas.

“Internet users have a reasonable expectation that they will not get swept up in criminal investigations simply by exercising their right to political speech against the government.

“We intend to take whatever steps are necessary to support and shield these users from what is, in our view, a very unfocused search and an unlawful request for their personal information.”

‘The ruling that comes out of this hearing will have far-reaching implications’

DreamHost goes to Washington

In conversation with, vice-president of corporate communications at DreamHost, Brett Dunst, discussed what the company hopes to happen in Washington on 24 August.

“It’s our hope that on the 24th, Chief Judge Morin will hear the Department of Justice’s arguments and weigh those against our own first and fourth amendment concerns with an open mind.

“If the warrant is declared to be too far-reaching, we would consider that a win for every online service provider, not just DreamHost.

“If the DOJ is allowed to proceed with their motion to compel, then the access to information available to law enforcement – unrelated to any given online investigation – will become nearly unlimited, almost overnight.

“The ruling that comes out of this hearing will have far-reaching implications, not just for everyday users for the internet, but for any online service provider that hosts customer-generated content.”

Dunst closed with a confident remark: “We’re looking forward to Thursday.”

Anti-Trump protestors on inauguration day. Image: Nicole S Glass/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects