DreamHost must turn over some information about a website hosted on its platform that was used to plan a protest on President Donald Trump's inauguration day, a DC judge ruled today.
The US Justice Department, which alleges that the site helped coordinate a riot, initially sought a massive amount of DreamHost data including the IP addresses of the site's approximately 1.3 million visitors. But the Justice Department narrowed the scope of its warrant earlier this week to exclude the IP addresses after DreamHost and civil liberties organisations objected.
However, the Superior Court of DC's Chief Judge Robert E. Morin ruled today that DreamHost still needs to disclose some information about the operators of the site, disruptj20.org. The US government claims that the site was used "to coordinate and to privately communicate among a focused group of people whose intent included planned violence".
Morin will oversee the search of the data DreamHost turns over, The Hill reports, with the aim of minimising any impact on visitors to the site who weren't allegedly involved in criminal activity.
DreamHost could appeal the decision, but does not appear that the company will choose to do so.
The legal battle between DreamHost and the DoJ raises questions about law enforcement overreach and access to user data. Broad requests for information such as those in the DreamHost warrant could have a chilling effect on protest and free speech, organisations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have argued. And even though the warrant has been narrowed, those concerns persist — especially since the Trump administration seems very interested in pursuing the organisers of an anti-Trump event.
"Before it was more or less a dragnet and a witch hunt and now it's just a witch hunt," EFF senior staff attorney Mark Rumold told Gizmodo earlier this week.
DreamHost has responded to the ruling on its blog, calling it a victory for the company.
"Given the extraordinary privacy and First Amendment issues raised by this case, the court has chosen to effectively shackle the Department of Justice in several key ways, all of which act to limit exposure of sensitive and private user information," the company said in its statement.
"We look forward to working with the Department of Justice and the Court as we hand over data that is an extremely limited subset of the original request. While we've been compelled by the court to share this (still) large cache of data (and will do so in the next few days), the DOJ will not gain access to it immediately. We are considering an appeal which would deny the government the ability to access that data temporarily and potentially forever if our appeal is found to have merit."