DOJ amends request for data from anti-Trump site

The Justice Department attempts to allay first and fourth amendment concerns but continues to seek data on visitors to an anti-Trump website.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer
(Image: Shutterstock / a katz)

The US Justice Department on Tuesday defended its right to request data on the visitors of an anti-Trump website, asking a court to compel the web host provider DreamHost to comply with the warrant. At the same time, the DOJ asked the court to modify its request so that it allays concerns over First and Fourth Amendment violations.

Earlier this month, DreamHost revealed that the DOJ demanded the logs of visitors to DisruptJ20, an anti-Trump website it hosts. The order demanded that the company provide "all information available" about the site, which would amount to handing over IP addresses for its 1.3 million visitors. The government says the site was used to plan riots on Donald Trump's inauguration day.

"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," the Justice Department wrote Tuesday to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. "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."

In response to DreamHost's complaints about the scope of the warrant, the DOJ proposed refining it in a few different ways: For instance, it said DreamHost should only provide content and transactional information for the time period from July 1, 2016, though Jan. 20,2017. It also said DreamHost should not disclose the contents of unpublished draft publications, such as images and their metadata, or records that constitute HTTP request and error logs.

Additionally, the Justice Department promises that "law enforcement will set aside any information that was produced by DreamHost but is outside the scope of the Warrant; it will seal that information; and it will not revisit that information without a further court order."

The department insists it has "no interest" in all 1.3 million IP addresses.

"What the government did not know when it obtained the warrant -- what it could not have reasonably known -- was the extent of visitor data maintained by DreamHost that extends beyond the government's singular locus in this case of investigating the planning, organization, and participation in the January 20, 2017 riot," the court filing says.

Raymond Aghaian, an attorney representing DreamHost, told The Hill that the development was a "tremendous win" for DreamHost, its users, and the public. However, he said, "There remains, unfortunately, other privacy and first and fourth amendment issues with the search warrant."

Editorial standards