Court Narrows, Restricts DOJ Warrant on Inaugural Protest Site

As we reported earlier, the Justice Department served a warrant concerning disruptj20.org on its hosting provider DreamHost seeking records of all visitors to the site, including all communications.  Rather than negotiate, the Justice Department moved to compel and DreamHost opposed the motion asserting that

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.

Clearly smarting from the  media backlash that followed, the Justice Department responded by explaining that it “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.”  DOJ asked the court to narrow the warrant to exclude visitor IP logs and unpublished drafts and images.  DreamHost argued that this was still too broad.

While D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert E. Morin granted the motion to compel, he imposed a number of restrictions.  The Justice Department must present a  “minimization plan” that identifies who and how they will comb through the data.  The Justice Department will need to articulate why they believe information should be produced and its production will be overseen by the court.

The remainder of the information produced will be put under seal and will be off limits to any further disclosure to any governmental entity without court approval.

DreamHost declared this as a victory.

 

Sometimes big wins don’t look like big wins.

Sometimes they look like a lot of little wins, all strung together!

That’s what’s happened here. The de-scoping of the original warrant, combined with the court’s additional restrictions on the use of, and access to, that data, is a clear victory for user privacy.

Here’s why.

If we had simply remained silent and handed over the data at the first sign of a warrant, investigators would today be sitting on a pile of information that could be used to track down and identify tens of thousands of individual web users who are themselves accused of no crime but would have found their personal browsing habits included and associated with this investigation.

As a result of our challenge, the DOJ ended up severely restricting the scope of data which was included in their original records request, effectively preventing them from fishing for evidence in a sea of unfiltered data extracted from our servers.

This is an enormous privacy win for all internet users and for any service providers that host user-generated content online.