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 government said in a brief released Tuesday that it has "no interest" in the 1.3 million IP addresses related to the website disruptj20.org. It says it is solely focused on information that could constitute evidence related to criminal rioting on Inauguration Day. 

“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.” 

Privacy and civil liberties advocates were up in arms last week when the web hosting company DreamHost publicized a July 12 search warrant for information related to disruptj20.org, which was used to organize protests on Inauguration Day. 

DreamHost said complying with the request would amount to handing over roughly 1.3 million visitor IP addresses and other information about visitors to the site.

Lawyers for DreamHost opposed the warrant, arguing it raised 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 lawyers said in a legal argument opposing the request.

In response, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., on Monday moved to amend the search warrant to DreamHost so that it specifies that the company should not disclose records that constitute HTTP request and error logs related to the website disruptj20.org. 

“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 states.  

The modified attachment to the search warrant also states that information requested from DreamHost should be limited to all records and information from between July 1, 2016, and Jan. 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 This information does not include content of unpublished draft publications for the website or records that constitute HTTP request and error logs that would reveal the IP addresses.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 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 related to 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.” 

A lawyer for DreamHost celebrated the development as a win in a statement Tuesday evening, but said that the company still has First and Fourth Amendments concerns that it plans to address in a separate filing and at an upcoming hearing. 

"The government has now withdrawn entirely its unlawful and highly problematic request for any data relating to the visitors of the website and any unpublished data subject to the Privacy Protection Act," said Raymond Aghaian, the DreamHost counsel. "This is a tremendous win for DreamHost, its users and the public. There remains, unfortunately, other privacy and First and Fourth Amendment issues with the search warrant."

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.

DreamHost - Government Reply - August 2017 by M Mali on Scribd