Justice Department amends demand for information on anti-Trump website visitors


On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed a brief in which it said it had previously not grasped "the extent of visitor data maintained by DreamHost that extends beyond the government's singular focus in this case of investigating the planning, organization, and participation in the January 20, 2017 riot".

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center's Liberty and National Security Program, said the DOJ's decision to narrow the warrant is a clear retreat from a troubling and controversial approach.

"In just one example of the staggering overbreadth of the search warrant, it would require DreamHost to turn over the IP logs of all visitors to the site", said the electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit internet privacy group.

DreamHost does not have details about the DOJ's investigation into disruptj20.org, but it says the scope of the government's request is concerning.

The website was not just a means to publicly disseminate information (as many websites are created to do), but was also used to coordinate and to privately communicate among a focused group of people whose intent included planned violence.

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DreamHost, the web hosting provider that was hit with the request, has been fighting back against what it characterised as an over-broad warrant that would have forced the company to hand over "all information available to us about this website, its owner, and, more importantly, its visitors". The authorities added that "the site was even used to verify the identity of people in closely-held meetings that were not open to the media or public, where organizers required attendees to log-in to the website to prove their credentials".

Computer companies and others had argued the warrant was a "sweeping dragnet" and urged Justice to rethink the request. Now, in its reply brief addressed to DC's court, the agency responded that it had no idea that its warrant would be so broad, since it didn't know how much data DreamHost has. This was a sensible response on DOJ's part-both legally and politically. It is still seeking information that would help identify protesters involved in violence and causing damage at anti-Trump protests. The request sent civil libertarians and others into a furor.

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".

That hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m.at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.