DreamHost, a Los Angeles-based hosting company, has announced that it had been requested by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) to provide information about one of the company’s customers’ websites. The website in case was used to organise participants of political protests against the current US administration, and DreamHost has been asked to provide all information available to the company about the website, its owner, and its visitors. As explained by DreamHost, the request involves ‘1.3 million visitor IP addresses, in addition to contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people, in an effort to determine who simply visited the website’. DreamHost challenged the DoJ on its warrant, arguing that rights such as privacy and freedom of expression are at stake. In reaction, the DoJ has filed a motion in the Washington DC Superior Court asking for an order to compel DreamHost to provide the required information. The company has filed legal arguments in opposition of the DoJ request, and a court hearing on the matter will be held on 24 August. [Update] The DoJ modified its request for information and stated it was not interested in IP addresses.
Privacy and data protection are two interrelated Internet governance issues. Data protection is a legal mechanism that ensures privacy. Privacy is usually defined as the right of any citizen to control their own personal information and to decide about it (to disclose information or not). Privacy is a fundamental human right. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in many other international and regional human rights conventions. The July 2015 appointment of the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age reflects the rising importance of privacy in global digital policy, and the recognition of the need to address privacy rights issues the the global, as well as national levels.
Several international instruments guarantee the right to freedom of expression. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that this right includes the freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. The Internet, with the opportunity it offers people to express themselves, is seen as an enabler of the exercise of this particular human right. Although these freedoms are guaranteed in global instruments and in national constitutions, in some countries freedom of expression is often curtailed through online censorship or filtering mechanisms, imposed by states, often for political reasons.