A Washington, D.C. court sent a stinging rebuke to the Department of Justice this week, telling authorities they could not issue a blanket demand for troves of information on visitors to an anti-Donald Trump website before the election.
The DOJ sought a massive warrant for data from web hosting provider DreamHost on roughly 1.3 million visitors to disruptj20.org, a website which organized protests against Trump’s inauguration earlier this year. It claims the data is relevant to the cases of some 200 people charged with rioting there. Per NPR, D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Morin slammed the request as unconstitutional in a ruling dated October 10th.
“[W]hile the government has the right to execute its warrant,” Morin wrote, “it does not have the right to rummage through the information contained on DreamHost’s website and discover the identity of, or access communications by, individuals not participating in alleged criminal activity, particularly those persons who were engaging in protected First Amendment activities.”
Morin ordered the government to redact the information of “innocent persons” before handing over the records, as well as outline how it will destroy all data unrelated to warrant into the investigation of accused rioters.
The case drew the alarm of privacy advocates, who worried Trump’s DOJ was attempting to use data from the protest organizers’ website to compile lists of suspected political opponents for any number of nefarious purposes.
In a different warrant, the DOJ demanded Facebook hand over the details of three Facebook users, one of whom operated disruptj20's Facebook page. The warrant labeled the 3 individuals “anti-administration activists who have spoken out at organized events, and who are generally very critical of this administration’s policies,” and asked for account details from an estimated 6,000 visitors to disruptj20's page.