Judge Orders DreamHost to Release Some Data From Trump Protest Website

In Judiciary and Courts On
- Updated

A Superior Court judge in Washington on Thursday ordered the web hosting company DreamHost to turn over data associated with a Trump protest website to federal prosecutors — but not as much as the Justice Department had originally sought.

The ruling by Judge Robert E. Morin allows the government to proceed with a scaled-back search warrant for records related to the website DisruptJ20.org, which served as a clearinghouse for plans to protest President Trump’s swearing-in on Jan. 20.

In a blog post, DreamHost, which is based in Brea, Calif., called the decision a win with caveats — a successful effort to beat back “unreasonable” requests by the Justice Department and “effectively shackle” federal investigators.

But DreamHost said that the ruling was an affront to privacy rights and that it would consider an appeal after reviewing a transcript of the hearing. Until the company reaches a decision, the Justice Department will have access to certain emails sent through the domain but must wait to comb through them.

To assuage DreamHost’s worries about potential First Amendment violations, Judge Morin will supervise the examination of the data.

Judge Orders DreamHost to Release Some Data From Trump Protest Website

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Justice Dept. Seeks Data From a Site For Dissent

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is trying to force an internet hosting company to turn over information about everyone who visited a website used to organize protests during President Trump’s inauguration, setting off a new fight over surveillance and privacy limits.

Federal investigators last month persuaded a judge to issue a search warrant to the company, Dreamhost, demanding that it turn over data identifying all the computers that visited its customer’s website and what each visitor viewed or uploaded.

The company says that would result in the disclosure of a large volume of information about people who had nothing to do with the protests. Over 1.3 million requests were made to view pages on the website in the six days after inauguration alone, it said.

Dreamhost is fighting the warrant as unconstitutionally broad.

“In essence, the search warrant not only aims to identify the political dissidents of the current administration, but attempts to identify and understand what content each of these dissidents viewed on the website,” two lawyers for Dreamhost, Raymond Aghaian and Chris Ghazarian, wrote in a court motion opposing the demand.

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The Justice Department Goes Fishing

Do you use the internet? Are you interested in politics? Do you value your privacy? If you answered yes, you should be alarmed by the shockingly broad search warrant sought by the Justice Department, and approved by a judge in Washington, D.C., last month, targeting DreamHost, an internet hosting company based in Los Angeles.

As DreamHost explained in a blog post on Monday, it hosts disruptj20.org, a website that helped organize anti-Trump protests on Inauguration Day, and posted pictures of those protests in the days after. There were large-scale protests across Washington on Jan. 20, most of which involved peaceful marches or sit-ins. But some people turned to violence, breaking store windows, setting fires, throwing rocks at police officers and, in one case, assaulting Richard Spencer, the white nationalist, during a television interview. More than 200 people have been charged with felony rioting.

As part of its continuing investigation, the Justice Department demanded that DreamHost turn over “all records or other information” relating to the site, which received more than 1.3 million requests to view its pages in six days after the inauguration. Those records include personal information like I.P. addresses, which identify a specific computer; data about which of the site’s pages a user viewed, and when; and the type of operating software on that person’s computer. Federal prosecutors are also seeking all emails, photos and other content sent to and from the site.

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