Web Host Goes Toe-to-Toe With Feds on Probe of Trump Protest

WASHINGTON (CN) – Facing a demand for web-traffic records concerning an anti-Trump page, a website-hosting company told a judge that the government is trampling the First Amendment.

The dispute stems from an investigation by law enforcement into Inauguration Day violence that resulted in hundreds of arrests and almost as many criminal charges, most of which have yet to be resolved.

On July 12, the D.C. Superior Court authorized a search warrant against DreamHost for identifying information on people who ran or visited the website disruptj20.org, which published information ahead of Inauguration Day about the protests scheduled.

DreamHost’s failure to comply with the warrant brought the government to court late last month, but DreamHost explained in a blog post Monday why it is fighting back.

Linking to a 24-page opposition brief, the web host says the warrant could implicate 1.3 million IP addresses, as well as thousands of email addresses and personal information about both the people who ran the website and those who visited it. 

“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,” the brief states.

In addition to gathering data on the site’s traffic both before and after Trump’s inauguration, DreamHost says the overly broad warrant would round up thousands of emails sent to DreamHost.

The government would allegedly get enough information to pick out the exact computers that visited the website as well as what their users viewed.

Raymond Aghaian, an attorney for DreamHost with the firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, argued in the brief that the warrant implicates people who were not part of the violence on Inauguration Day and would discourage people from participating in political activity in the future.

“This court should not permit the government to trample upon the privacy of the individuals interacting with the website and force DreamHost to produce the electronic information that would not only identify who they are, but specifically what each of these individuals viewed, read or the political content that they were interested in,” the brief states.

Judge Lynn Leibovitz will hold a hearing on the case Friday morning.

In its motion to show cause, the government argues the warrant went through the proper process and is supported by the sworn affidavit of a Metropolitan Police Department detective.

“Thus, there should be no dispute that the court’s search warrant was properly issued and that DreamHost must comply with the court’s warrant,” the government’s motion states.

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