America's next President Donald Trump

Judge protects data of 1.3 million anti-Trump website visitors from federal investigators

Image credit: Reuters

A judge has denied the US Department of Justice (DOJ) access to data about casual visitors to a website which organised anti-Trump protests.

President Trumps’ inauguration in January was accompanied by widespread protests and civil disobedience across the US. One organisation involved with planning anti-Trump activism on this day was DisruptJ20.

Following Trump’s inauguration, DreamHost, which hosts the website of DisruptJ20, was delivered a grand jury subpoena requesting information about internet users who had created profiles on the website.

DreamHost complied with this demand, but in July, it received a further demand: the federal government had filed a warrant requesting data about all visitors to the DisruptJ20 website. According to DreamHost, this included IP addresses of 1.3 million internet users, as well as the date and time they visited it and on which internet browser. It would allow federal investigators, the company argued, to identify casual visitors, including many who did not join in with the protests.

Following criticism from DreamHost and other parties, the DOJ stated that it only required information “singularly focused on criminal activity” and requested to change the warrant.

Now, DC Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Morin has demanded that DreamHost provide information which could be used to identify subscribers to the organisation’s website in the run-up to the inauguration, although it cannot be forced to reveal details of ordinary visitors to the site.

“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,” he wrote.

Morin rigorously laid out conditions under which the DOJ could access DreamHost’s data. The materials will be reviewed by an expert he appoints. Prosecutors will only have access to the data once the DOJ had laid out their plans for analysing the data.

The ruling was considered successful by DreamHost. Christopher Ghazarian, who is representing the company, called the updated plans “a far cry from the original warrant we received in July”.

“We’re happy to see significant changes that will protect the constitutional rights of innocent internet users,” he said.

In a separate case, the DOJ is attempting to force Facebook to disclose information about three accounts associated with DisruptJ20, including its public Facebook page and the 6,000 people who follow it.

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