Federal prosecutors seeking to make a web hosting company comply with a search warrant that could implicate the IP addresses of 1.3 million visitors to an anti-Trump website promised a D.C. court on Monday the request "is singularly focused on criminal activity".
The ruling comes after the Justice Department narrowed its original warrant, which would have sought information on all 1.3 million visitors to DisruptJ20.
An a hearing, Chief Judge Robert Morin said DreamHost, a Los Angeles-based web hosting company, must turn over data about visitors to the website disruptj20.org, which is a home to political activists who organized protests at the time of Donald Trump's inauguration as US president in January. "At the time this information is in the government's possession and at the time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation agent is reviewing that email. that, in DreamHost's view, has itself a chilling effect on the exercise of political expression and the right to association under the First Amendment".
"Given the extraordinary privacy and First Amendment issues raised by this case, the court has chosen to effectively shackle the Department of Justice in several key ways, all of which act to limit exposure of sensitive and private user information", the company said in its statement. That includes data stored on Dreamhost for the DisruptJ20 website from October 1, 2016, through January 20, including any communications related to the planning and carrying out of crimes committed during the inauguration and identifying information for those involved.
The government filed a motion to show cause in D.C. Superior Court on July 20, demanding DreamHost explain why it had not complied with a search warrant sent earlier that month. What is deemed within the scope of the government's new search request will figure prominently in the court session. The government rejected that premise, saying the information they are seeking is about people who wanted to commit crimes, not simply surf for political content.
But the company still has concerns about the chilling effect of data being turned over for government review and is considering an appeal, Aghaian said. While the DOJ has backed off its initial, controversial request for IP addresses, the government still wants other personal information included in the metadata from DreamHost - a request Morin granted. "The First Amendment does not protect violent, criminal conduct such as this", lawyers for the government write.
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.
"I'm going to be supervising their search", Morin told the lawyers.
A spokesperson for the US Attorney's Office in Washington declined to comment.