More than 60 Groups to Attorney General: Warrant for Inauguration Day Protester Data Sets Dangerous Precedent

August 24, 2017

Following this morning’s D.C. Superior Court hearing on a warrant, obtained by the U.S. Department of Justice, for information associated with a website used to organize Inauguration Day protests, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and a bipartisan group of more than 60 other organizations sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing concern over the Department’s actions in this case.

The Justice Department originally sought and obtained a warrant for any information associated with disruptj20.org, claiming the website was used by certain individuals to plan a “violent riot.” The warrant would have required the web host to turn over information about all 1.3 million visits to the website, including the IP addresses of the visitors. As the letter observes, requiring the disclosure of this information — which would have allowed the government to identify visitors to a website focused on political protest and dissent — “would have created a significant chilling effect on future expressions of political speech and participation in protests.”

Although the Department is now asking for a narrower set of information, the letter warns that “there remain significant Fourth and First Amendment issues,” as the warrant is still broader than necessary and will sweep in the constitutionally protected political speech of individuals who are not under investigation. Furthermore, the letter notes, “the Department maintains that its initial request was legal and appropriate, raising concerns that the Department might seek similar warrants in the future.”

“The Justice Department’s actions in this case conflicted with core American values. Americans have a right to seek information 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 letter concludes. “Even in its prosecutorial role — especially in its prosecutorial role — the Justice Department should seek to uphold, not undermine, these constitutional protections.”

Read the full letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

For more information about the letter or today’s court hearing, or to schedule an interview, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292-8381 or naren.daniel@nyu.edu.
 

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