A District of Columbia Superior Court judge on Tuesday agreed to limit the scope of the data the U.S. Justice Department is seeking from an anti-Trump website, saying innocent peoples’ identities must be safeguarded to protect their constitutional rights. Chief Judge Robert Morin’s order was hailed as a victory by DreamHost, a Los Angeles-based web hosting company, which has been fighting the government over its request to turn over information from the website disruptj20.org. The website is home to political activists who helped to organize protests against President Donald Trump on Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia is seeking records from DreamHost about the website amid concerns it facilitated the planning of those protests, in which more than 200 people were arrested for rioting and vandalizing businesses. Tuesday’s order lays out the scope of what the Justice Department may collect from DreamHost. “Because of the potential breadth of the government’s review in this case, the warrant in its execution may implicate otherwise innocuous and constitutionally protected activity,” Judge Morin wrote. “While the government has the right to execute its warrant, it does not have the right to rummage through the information contained on DreamHosts’s website and discover the identity of, or access communications by, individuals not participating in alleged criminal activity.”
DreamHost’s attorney, Raymond Aghaian, praised the ruling. Any information about people who are members of, or are affiliated with disruptj20.org, or who communicated with the site, “is to be redacted and excluded from production,” he said. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment, saying the case is still pending. DreamHost and the Justice Department have been arguing over the scope of the warrant for several months now. In August, Morin approved the terms of a warrant that was also intended to protect innocent users, though DreamHost said at the time it was still concerned it could have a chilling effect on free speech.
Tuesday’s order instructed the government to file a report with the court explaining its intended search protocol and made it clear that the government can only conduct its search on a “redacted data set that omits non-subscriber identifying information.”