NEFAC, First Amendment Advocates Object to U.S. Justice Dept. Request for Information on Protesters

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently expressed concern about a U.S. Justice Department request for information from a protest-organizing website, calling the request “sweeping” and in conflict with core American values.

The Justice Department in July filed a motion with the D.C. Superior Court to compel the website provider DreamHost to comply with a search warrant seeking company records and information about the website, which was used as a platform for sharing information about protests planned for the week leading up to Inauguration Day and the Women’s March the following day.

According to the response filed by DreamHost, complying with this request would have amounted 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. Two days before a scheduled hearing on the case, in the face of mounting public pressure, the Justice Department narrowed its demand for information related to the website.

In an Aug. 24 letter — drafted by OpenTheGovernment — NEFAC and more than 70 public interest organizations explained the First Amendment implications of the request and shared their concerns that the Justice Department still considers the original request legal and appropriate.

In addition, the groups explained, information yielded by the revised demand could still allow the government to identify individuals engaged in constitutionally protected speech and dissent, as well as members of the news media and the public who simply participated in meetings or communicated with organizers whose email accounts are affiliated with the protest website.

“Americans have a right to organize and assemble without fear of surveillance; they have a right to privacy; they have a right to dissent; and they have a right to petition their government without fear of persecution,” the groups wrote. “Even in its prosecutorial role — especially in its prosecutorial role — the Justice Department should seek to uphold, not undermine, these constitutional protections.”

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.