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DOJ drops request for IP addresses from Trump resistance site
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is dropping its controversial request for visitor IP addresses related to an anti-Trump website.
The U.S. attorney's office in Washington D.C. is requesting that a search warrant issued to the web hosting provider DreamHost be amended to say that the company should not disclose records that constitute HTTP request and error logs related to the website disruptj20.org. That website was used to organize protests of President Trump on Inauguration Day.
The warrant was thrust into the spotlight last week, when DreamHost publicized the July 12 search warrant and said that complying with the request would amount to handing over roughly 1.3 million visitor IP addresses and other information about visitors to the site.
Privacy and civil liberties advocates criticized the warrant, arguing that it was overly broad and would chill free speech and political expression.
But the government said in a reply brief Monday that it isn't interested in records related to the 1.3 million IP addresses; it says it is solely focused on information held by DreamHost that could constitute evidence related to criminal rioting on Inauguration Day.
"What the government did not know when it obtained the Warrant – what it could not have reasonably known – was 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," the reply brief, which was released Tuesday, states.
"The government has no interest in records relating to the 1.3 million IP addresses that are mentioned in DreamHost's numerous press releases and Opposition brief. The government's investigation is focused on the violence discussed in the Affidavit."
The modified attachment to the search warrant also states that information requested from DreamHost should be limited to all records and information related to the website from the time period between July 1, 2016, and January 20, 2017. This information does not include content of unpublished draft publications for the website or records that constitute HTTP request and error logs that would reveal the IP addresses, the modified attachment specifies.
Lawyers for DreamHost have opposed the warrant, arguing that it is overbroad and raises First and Fourth Amendment concerns.
"In essence, the Search Warrant not only aims to identify the political dissidents of the current administration, but attempts to identify and understand what content each of these dissidents viewed on the website," the company's general counsel and the company's lawyers said in a legal argument opposing the request.
The Justice Department rejected that argument on Monday.
"The Warrant – like the criminal investigation – is singularly focused on criminal activity," the reply brief states. "It will not be used for any other purpose."
The brief also specifies that the information is being requested in connection with the ongoing investigation into the rioting that occurred on Inauguration Day. More than 200 people have been indicted on rioting charges over the protests.
"The government values and respects the First Amendment right of all Americans to participate in peaceful political protests and to read protected political expression online. This Warrant has nothing to do with that right," the government states in the reply brief.
"The Warrant is focused on evidence of the planning, coordination and participation in a criminal act – that is, a premeditated riot. The First Amendment does not protect violent, criminal conduct such as this."
The government is asking the Superior Court of D.C. to compel DreamHost to produce the information requested in the warrant. A hearing on the issue has been schedule for Thursday morning before Chief Judge Robert Morin.
[Source: By Morgan Chalfant, The Hill, Washington, 22Aug17]
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