The Department of Justice attempted to collect vast amounts of personal information about anti-Trump protesters from web hosting company DreamHost. President Trump’s DOJ initially tried to get a sweeping warrant that would have allowed government officials to access all records from DreamHost for visitors to DreamHost’s customer DisruptJ20.org. The government wants all the files, even from those who are not suspected of any crimes.
DreamHost resisted the warrant and did not comply. The internet company claimed the warrant was too broad and was a danger to free speech. The government claimed the warrant was a part of the investigation into 200 people charged with rioting on inauguration day.
In a new development, a Washington D.C. judge has put significant limits on the DOJ’s fishing expedition. In his decision, D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Morin wrote,
“[W]hile the government has the right to execute (their) warrant, it does not have the right to rummage through the information contained on DreamHost’s website and discover the identity of, or access communications by, individuals not participating in alleged criminal activity, particularly those persons who were engaging in protected First Amendment activities.”
The judge’s order tells DreamHost to redact any identifying information of “innocent persons” who may have visited the site before any records are given to the government. In addition to the requirement that identifying information is redacted, the government is also required to submit a plan for permanently deleting from its possession any information obtained that exceeds the scope of the warrant.
In response to the decision, General Counsel for DreamHost, Christopher Ghazarian wrote in a statement, “The new order is a far cry from the original warrant we received in July. Absent a finding by the Court that probable cause of criminal activity exists, the government will not be able to uncover the identities of these users. There are also quite a few modifications that further reduce the government’s ability to review unrelated data. This is another huge win not just for DreamHost, but for internet users around the world.”