Judge green-lights feds' request for Trump protesters' data
Posted August 24
A judge in DC handed federal prosecutors a win Thursday in their ongoing fight over data connected to a website used to organize Inauguration Day protests against the Trump administration.
Although web-hosting provider Dreamhost is not required to turn over millions of IP addresses for mere visitors who clicked on the disruptj20.org website, Chief Judge Robert Morin of the DC Superior Court largely granted prosecutors' request to collect a wide-ranging set of records from the company, which will now include emails for users who signed up for an account associated with the website, organizers' membership lists and emails of third parties who sent messages to disruptj20.org account users, among other information.
The dispute between Dreamhost and federal authorities has been ongoing for weeks, as the company has pushed back against the requests as overbroad and potentially chilling to free speech rights. On Tuesday, the US Attorney's office in DC proposed a revised search warrant to the court, emphasizing that it is only focused on potential criminal acts associated with the protests, "not their political views -- and certainly not the lawful activities of peaceful protests."
After an hourlong hearing Thursday, Morin said he was mindful that the data of "innocent users" could be swept up in the government's search and added several additional safeguards that prosecutors must comply with to "balance First Amendment protections and (prosecutors') need for the information."
The judge explained that he would supervise the collection and search process, and prosecutors must now submit to the court a list of all law enforcement officials who will review the data, provide a "minimization protocol" for how authorities plan to separate out data from "innocent users" of the website -- and once the data is collected, prosecutors cannot publicize or share it with any other law enforcement agency.
Raymond O. Aghaian, a lawyer for Dreamhost, argued that the judge's safeguards do not go far enough and signaled that the company may appeal Morin's ruling, saying website users may face "irreparable harm" if Dreamhost complies with the ruling.
The US Attorney's Office declined to comment.
Prosecutors in DC have indicted nearly 200 people on local rioting charges stemming from the January protests, and 19 have pled guilty to date.