The U.S. Department of Justice has narrowed the scope of a warrant regarding the #DisruptJ20 website used to coordinate protests of the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January. The government originally required the site’s host, DreamHost, to hand over information about the 1.3 million people who visited #DisruptJ20. Now the warrant is focused more on those who actively planned the inauguration protests.
DreamHost said earlier this month that the warrant would have required it to reveal the IP addresses—and therefore the general location—of 1.3 million people. The hosting service provider would also have to hand over contact information, email addresses, and photos of thousands of other people. The sheer amount of personal data covered by the warrant prompted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to call it a “clear threat” to Constitutional rights, with the rights organization and DreamHost alike raising concerns about First and Fourth Amendment protections.
In a court filing, the Justice Department said it was unaware of just how much information was included in the original warrant. It also pushed back against warnings about the warrant violating the First and Fourth Amendments, or that the government was targeting people for their political views. Here’s one section of the filing, which amended the warrant to restrict the amount of info DreamHost would have to provide:
The Affidavit, the indictment that was returned by a Grand Jury, and the government’s repeated statements made during public hearings in the pending criminal cases make clear that the government is focused on the criminal acts of defendants and14their co-conspirators, and not their political views – and certainly not the lawful activities of peaceful protesters. Similarly, the government is focused on the use of the Website to organize,to plan, and to effect a criminal act – that is, a riot. The government has no interest in seizing data from the Website that does not relate to this limited purpose.
The DoJ also said it didn’t know DreamHost had so much information when it filed the warrant. It seems like the scope of the original warrant could be attributed more to ignorance than to malevolence. (Though we aren’t sure that’s a good thing, considering how many warrants are likely served to companies like DreamHost on a regular basis.) The amended warrant seeks to get the pertinent data without collecting too much else.
DreamHost responded to the news in a blog post, which reads in part:
We see this as a huge win for internet privacy, and we absolutely appreciate the DOJ’s willingness to look at and reconsider both the scope and the depth of their original request for records. That’s all we asked them to do in the first place, honestly. […] But we’re not done.
The company said it plans to move forward with a filing “to address the remaining First and Fourth Amendment issues raised by this warrant” because “there are still a few issues that we consider to be problematic for a number of reasons.” Despite its new limits, the warrant is still looking for info about political protests, and it seems the DoJ and DreamHost don’t see eye-to-eye on the Constitutionality of that search.
A hearing about this back-and-forth is scheduled to take place in Washington, DC on Thursday.