The Minister of Housing really didn’t like me. At all. Everyone around the polished walnut conference table in her Pretoria office could see it.
The fact that I was married to her personal secretary didn’t help.
I’d been a thorn in her side since the day she’d made a strategic alliance with the South African housing rights group for whom I worked. She wanted an easy ride. Ululating homeless people praising her in photo ops.
She got that … but she also got my colleagues and me, who relentlessly highlighted in the press the hypocrisy of her department’s evictions of those same people.
At first this didn’t really matter to me. I was fighting the good fight. But as the years went by, I realized the cost.
By 2007, I was tired. I wanted to do something else with my life. Let the younger folks take to the trenches.
But as I put out feelers for new employment, I discovered the dark truth … I’d been blacklisted for my views. I was unemployable.
Think it can’t happen to you in the good ol’ U.S. of A? Think again.
And take action before it’s too late.
Crossing a Line
Last week, news reports revealed on July 17 the Department of Justice (DoJ) issued a search warrant to a California web hosting company called DreamHost.
The warrant demanded information related to a website that encouraged people to protest at President Trump’s inauguration.
The search warrant shocked the legal world … and privacy bugs like me.
For the first time, the federal government has demanded to know the identities of people who visited a specific website without any evidence of a crime having been committed. As DreamHost’s answering filing says:
The government’s search warrant (“Search Warrant”) here requires non-party DreamHost, LLC (“DreamHost”) to turn over every piece of information it has about every visitor to a website expressing political views concerning the current administration. This information includes the IP address for the visitor, the website pages viewed by the visitor, even a detailed description of software running in the visitor’s computer. (Underline added.)
This has never happened before.
Normally, the DoJ limits such search warrants to information about the owners of websites. That information is specific enough to meet the Fourth Amendment’s stipulation that “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause … and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
In other words, under the Constitution, the government can’t go on a fishing expedition for anonymous names.
That’s precisely what the DreamHost warrant does. The DoJ has made no effort whatsoever to limit the warrant to actual evidence of any crime.
It only makes matter worse that the defining characteristic of the visitors to the website in question is the expression of political dissent.
That crosses a very dangerous line indeed.
Freedom Knows No Party
Naturally, our political preferences shape our first reactions to something like this. If we like the president, we may tend to support the DoJ’s move. At the very least, we’ll be sympathetic.
But just imagine that this was Hillary Clinton’s DoJ, and the website in question was devoted to opposition to her.
You see the problem.
We have one Department of Justice, one government, one set of laws and one Constitution. Not one for Republicans and one for Democrats.
Any precedent that government sets can be used by future governments. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge.
Yes, It Has Come to This
Normally when I write about strategies to protect your online privacy, I’m thinking about hackers or abusive commercial data harvesting.
Now I must include your political views in that list.
There is a way to prevent government snoops from finding out what websites you visit and what you do on them. It’s called a virtual private network (VPN). I’ve written about them before.
A good VPN makes it impossible for anyone to know who and where you are when you surf the web. When you visit a website, the IP address (your computer’s postal address) appears to be somewhere else.
Mine, for example, typically appears to be in Iceland. Or New Zealand.
That makes it useless to the goons issuing unconstitutional search warrants.
I eventually learned that the South African government was tapping my phone, reading my emails and telling potential employers to avoid me. It’s one reason I’m writing to you now and not sitting on the beach near my home in Cape Town.
It’s also why I use a VPN.
Unless you have a Plan B for a second life, you should use one too.
Editor, The Bauman Letter