A judge ordered the web hosting company DreamHost to redact identifying information about visitors to a website used to coordinate a protest during President Trump’s inauguration, imposing further limits on an extensive warrant obtained by the Justice Department that initially aimed to collect visitors’ IP addresses.
Chief Judge Robert E. Morin of the Superior Court of D.C. had previously ordered DreamHost to turn over information about the operators of the website, disruptj20.org. The Justice Department alleged that the site was used to privately communicate plans for a riot, and that it needed the IP addresses of the millions of visitors to the site in order to discover who had incited the violence. After resistance from DreamHost, the Justice Department narrowed the scope of its request.
In an order issued today, Morin said that the government would need to submit a report explaining the minimization procedures it would use when searching DreamHost’s data—in short the government would need to explain why it needs everything it needs. Only then would Morin allow the DoJ to review redacted data, and the government would again have to provide the court with its justification for removing any redactions.
“Because of the potential breadth of the government’s review in this case, the Warrant in its execution may implicate otherwise innocuous and constitutionally protected activity,” Morin wrote. “As the Court has previously stated, while the government has the right to execute its 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.”
DreamHost hailed Morin’s ruling as a win not only for visitors to the disruptj20 site that used its hosting services, but for internet users everywhere.
“We’re happy to see significant changes that will protect the constitutional rights of innocent internet users. Under this order, we can redact all identifying information and protect the identities of users who interacted with disruptj20.org,” DreamHost’s general counsel Christopher Ghazarian said 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.”