TechFreedom, an Atlas Network partner focused on technological progress and policy in the United States, has seen success in highlighting the importance of robust First and Fourth Amendment protections to help continue the advance of a free and open Internet. By publishing white papers, appearing in podcasts, and bringing attention to instances of government attempting to subvert a free and open Internet, TechFreedom does vital work in drawing public attention to issues of free expression online.
One of TechFreedom’s cases of focus was the DreamHost case, resolved in October 2017. In this case, the federal Department of Justice delivered a warrant to DreamHost, a website hosting company, to deliver the personal details — including names, addresses, and phone numbers — of over 1.3 million visitors to disruptj20.com, an anti-Trump website accused of organizing a riot on President Trump’s inauguration day. TechFreedom helped advise the defense in court, arguing that the warrant in question cast too broad a net and failed the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that a warrant “particularly describe the person or place to be searched or seized.” This would cause a so-called “chilling effect” on online free speech, discouraging otherwise unrelated speech for fear of prosecution. While the initial challenge to the warrant was unsuccessful, a later revision by D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin allowed DreamHost to redact the personal information of the website’s visitors, thus protecting a fundamental right to anonymous speech.
“Judge Morin’s original order would have exposed law-abiding Americans to retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights, thus chilling political discussion online,” said TechFreedom Legal Fellow Graham Owens. “He particularly deserves credit for rethinking his original order.”
TechFreedom’s other major case involvement, a similar case concerning users of a website called Glassdoor, did not, however, end as positively. Glassdoor, which hosts user-provided salary information for a variety of employers and positions, was the target of a similar wide-reaching attempt by the Department of Justice to obtain user data. TechFreedom signed on to a coalition letter to attorney general Jeff Sessions with over 80 other nonprofit organizations to attempt to dissuade the efforts of the Department of Justice. However, despite legal arguments which were similar to those used on the DreamHost case, the 9th Circuit Court denied Glassdoor’s appeal and upheld the validity of the warrant.
TechFreedom received an illiberalism grant from Atlas Network for its Future of Free Speech Online project. The illiberalism grant program is designed to help Atlas Network’s partners who are working to combat the new authoritarianism and stop the rise of illiberal statist sentiment.