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 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 organizations objected.
However, the Superior Court of D.C.’s Chief Judge Robert E. Morin ruled this morning that DreamHost still needs to disclose some information about the operators of the site, disruptj20.org. The 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 minimizing any impact on visitors to the site who weren’t allegedly involved in criminal activity.
DreamHost could appeal the decision, but it’s not clear yet whether the company will choose to do so. Gizmodo contacted DreamHost for comment on the ruling and will update when we hear back.
The legal battle between DreamHost and the DoJ raises questions about law enforcement overreach and access to user data. Broad requests for information like those in the DreamHost warrant could have a chilling effect on protest and free speech, organizations 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 organizers 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.
Update 3:30 p.m. ET: 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.”
Update 4:45 p.m. ET: Gizmodo spoke to DreamHost general counsel Chris Ghazarian, who said the company is still weighing whether or not to appeal the court’s decision, but is happy to see the scope of the warrant narrowed.
“We still think that there are some concerns with the warrant as it is right now, and we’re reviewing our options,” Ghazarian said.
Although DreamHost has received support from the EFF, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations, Ghazarian said he was surprised that DreamHost didn’t get more vocal support from other hosting companies.
“We’ve had so many organizations and people reach out to us and either support with their words or filing in court themselves or putting together supportive messages or other statements in support of DreamHost,” he said. “The hosting industry and some of the ISPs have been pretty quiet during this ride. I think it’s interesting to note that because I bet quite a few of them have complied with orders from the DoJ without reviewing their options and they’re probably looking at the situation and thinking they screwed up.”