DOJ wants info on anti-Trump site visitors; web host invokes First Amendment

The US Department of Justice is asking web hosting provider DreamHost to hand over specific user information of visitors to anti-Trump website disruptj20.org, but the company is fighting back, writes CNN.

“DreamHost’s opinion of the breadth of the warrant does not provide it with a basis for refusing to comply with the Court’s search warrant and begin an immediate production,” the DOJ was reported saying.

To support their request for a search warrant, federal prosecutors submitted an affidavit saying the website was used to organize a riot in January.

“The government values and respects the First Amendment right of all Americans to participate in peaceful political protests and to read protected political expression online,” reads the government’s reply. “This Warrant has nothing to do with that right. The Warrant is focused on evidence of the planning, coordination and participation in a criminal act – that is, a premeditated riot. The First Amendment does not protect violent, criminal conduct such as this.”

DreamHost claims the government wants “all records” on “subscribers” and “those who participated, planned, organized, or incited” the January riot in DC, totaling 1.3 million IP addresses. Besides IP addresses, DreamHost is also asked to provide contact information, email content and photos of thousands of visitors.

“That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment,” DreamHost said on their blog. “That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind. This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority.”

Following a months-long battle, with legal support and assistance from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Chris Ghazarian, General Counsel at DreamHost, filed an opposition motion, and a court hearing was scheduled on August 18.

The hearing was “a huge win for internet privacy,” DreamHost wrote, and although the court is now to exclude “any unpublished media, including both text and photographs that may appear in blog posts that were drafted but never made public” and “any HTTP access and error logs, meaning visitors’ IP addresses are largely safe” the battle is ongoing.

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