Federal prosecutors want identifying information on more than 1 million people who visited an anti-Trump website.
The website-hosting company DreamHost must turn over records related to visitors to disruptj20.org, according to a warrant issued last month. . Disrupt J20 was a hub for people who planned to Trump’s J inauguration in Washington, D.C. and hosted maps, legal resources, and art for demonstrators. But after some protesters broke windows and damaged cars, police swept up over 200 people in a mass arrest, including journalists and self-described peaceful protesters.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. has aggressively prosecuted the defendants, indicting more than 200 people on riot charges, in some cases solely on the basis that some people wore “black or dark colored clothing,” or chanted anti-capitalist slogans.
But prosecutors are attempting to prove that demonstrators conspired to riot in advance. Their investigation has led to the seizure over 100 defendants’ phones, at least two of which investigators have been able to crack, giving them access to call logs, messages, web history, and pictures, The Daily Beast previously reported. The court has also subpoenaed records from the Apple account of a non-defendant who is friends with a defendant, a person close to the case told The Daily Beast. The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment on this claim.
And last month, the case expanded to the million-plus IP addresses that visited the Disrupt J20 website. DreamHost emailed the owner of disruptj20.org to break the news last week.
“DreamHost was served with a warrant from the US Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. regarding your website disruptj20.org,” the email sent to The Daily Beast read. “We initially refused to produce the materials. On July 28th we were served with a ‘Motion to Compel’ and we will be filing arguments in the next few days.”
The email to Disrupt J20 followed nearly a month of private efforts by DreamHost to protect its userdata. The U.S. Attorney’s Office demanded the company turn over “logs showing connections related to the website … including records of session times and durations, log files, dates and times of connecting, methods of connecting, and ports,” the warrant, which DreamHost posted online on Monday read.
The warrant would mean DreamHost handing over the IP addresses of everyone who had visited the site, as well as when they visited. The warrant demanded more specific information on the people involved in running the site, including their names, addresses, and phone numbers.
The demands constitute an over reach, DreamHost’s lawyers claim. In their Monday blog post, the company announced that the warrant would require them to surrender “over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses — in addition to contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people — in an effort to determine who simply visited the website.”
Those visitors could join the vast digital dragnet that has already seen investigators crack into defendants’ phones, and allegedly subpoena a non-defendant’s Apple account.
On August 11, DreamHost’s lawyers filed a motion of opposition against the DOJ, claimed its warrant of violating the Fourth Amendment and the Privacy Protection Act (which protects journalists and other news sources from having their materials seized before publication). A court is scheduled to hear the motion on Friday.
The information the DOJ seeks “could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment,” DreamWeb wrote. “That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.”