Feds Say Demand for Inauguration Day Protest Info Is Narrow Enough

WASHINGTON (CN) – Federal prosecutors seeking to make a web hosting company comply with a search warrant that could implicate the IP addresses of 1.3 million visitors to an anti-Trump website promised a D.C. court on Monday the request “is singularly focused on criminal activity.”

“The government 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,” the reply states [emphasis in original]. “The government’s investigation is focused on the violence discussed in the affidavit.”

Prosecutors also mention in the reply brief that they would be willing to ask for a more limited disclosure from DreamHost, the company that hosted the website at the center of the case. The new proposal would limit the time period for which DreamHost would provide information and would come with the assurance that the government would place under seal any information it might receive that is not relevant to its prosecutions.

The assurances came in an 18-page brief the U.S. Attorney filed on Monday in reply to DreamHost’s announcement last week that it would fight a search warrant seeking information on people who ran or visited disruptj20.org, a website that published details about protests scheduled for Inauguration Day.

The government filed a motion to show cause in D.C. Superior Court on July 20, demanding DreamHost explain why it had not complied with a search warrant sent earlier that month. DreamHost claims the information in the warrant could sweep up as many as 1.3 million IP address, as well as thousands of email addresses and personal information about people who visited the site.

The search warrant is part of the ongoing prosecution of more than 200 people who were arrested when Inauguration Day protests in the city turned violent, with protesters smashing windows and scuffling with police. So far, 19 people have pleaded guilty to some crime committed during the protests.

While DreamHost claims the warrant would sweep up information about innocent people who visited a political website, the government argues in its reply that distruptj20.org was also meant to organize a “small and focused group” of people with a specific, insidious goal.

“The website was not just a means to publicly disseminate information (as many websites are designed to do), but was also used to coordinate and to privately communicate among a focused group of people whose intent included planned violence,” the reply, which was sent to reporters on Tuesday, states.

The government also claims it has attempted to resolve the situation with DreamHost itself, but that the web hosting company has held firm in its refusal to comply with the warrant.

DreamHost’s arguments, made in a court filing last week, largely centered on the claim that forcing a company to turn over broad data about people who visited a political website would run afoul of the First Amendment. The government rejected that premise, saying the information they are seeking is about people who wanted to commit crimes, not simply surf for political content.

“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,” the reply states. “This warrant has nothing to do with that right. 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.”

The two parties are set to meet in court on Thursday, having already delayed a hearing originally scheduled for last week.

 

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