Court orders company to turn over metadata from anti-Trump website

Anti-Trump protest

Federal prosecutors say website Disruptj20.org was used to plan a violent anti-Trump riot on Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C. Initially the US Department of Justice (DoJ) demanded that the site's web host, DreamHost, turn over extensive data including IP addresses, which identify a specific computer. The warrant issued by the department was so broad, DreamHost said, that it was effectively requesting information that could identify lawful protestors - including information on more than 1.3 million IP addresses from visitors to the site.

Some data about anti-Trump website subscribers... What is deemed within the scope of the government's new search request will figure prominently in the court session. More than 200 people were charged with rioting in Washington on January 20, and the majority of those criminal cases remain pending.

The judge said he had to balance two legitimate interests - free speech and law enforcement needs - and ultimately ruled for a two-step warrant process with additional safeguards.

It's unclear if DreamHost will continue to fight the new demand. Lawyers for the web hosting company told reporters following the opening hearing that they would review the transcript and make a decision in the near future.

Raymond O. Aghaian, a lawyer for Dreamhost, argued that the judge's safeguards do not go far enough and signaled that the company may appeal Morin's ruling, saying website users may face "irreparable harm" if Dreamhost complies with the ruling.




The legal battle between DreamHost and the DoJ raises questions about law enforcement overreach and access to user data.

A spokesperson for the US Attorney's Office in Washington declined to comment. The revised warrant, lawyers with the USA attorney's office in D.C. argued Thursday, is sufficiently particular about the information that the government is allowed seize from the requested data - only that which constitutes evidence of a violation of D.C. criminal code governing rioting. In light of that, it has offered to carve out information demanded in the warrant, specifically pledging to not request information like HTTP logs tied to IP addresses. The Justice Department says any information that falls outside the scope of what the government can seize will be sealed and not reviewed without a formal court order. "The First Amendment does not protect violent, criminal conduct such as this".

The judge explained that he would supervise the collection and search process, and prosecutors must now submit to the court a list of all law enforcement officials who will review the data, provide a "minimization protocol" for how authorities plan to separate out data from "innocent users" of the website - and once the data is collected, prosecutors can not publicize or share it with any other law enforcement agency.

The decision by prosecutors to seek a court-ordered search warrant for website visitor information created an uproar among DreamHost executives and political rights advocates who argued the search violated Constitutional protections.

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