DreamHost — a US-based web hosting provider — revealed today that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had issued a search warrant in an attempt to obtain details about one of its customers, and the people who visited its website.
The site in question is disruptj20.org, a website used by a group of users to organize anti-Trump protests in Washington, DC ahead of President Donald Trump's inauguration day, on January 20.
Some of these protests turned violent, and the DOJ started an investigation into the riots that spun out of the original rally.
Today, DreamHost published a search warrant issued by the DOJ on July 12 that allowed investigators to seize various types of data from its servers. The list included the site's source code, logs, databases, email accounts, domain information, and others.
DreamHost said it decided to fight the search warrant because this would have implied that they hand over 1.3 million IP addresses of people who visited the site.
This data, combined with logs and timestamps, would have allowed government officials to identify with great accuracy who accessed the site and create a list of anti-Trump supporters.
"That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment," a DreamHost spokesperson said today. "That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind."
The web host says it's been fighting the search warrant for more than a month with legal counsel from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). They first tried to convince the DOJ to narrow the scope of the data they were looking for, but the government refused.
"No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth, other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible," said today Mark Rumold of the EFF. "But the Fourth Amendment was designed to prohibit fishing expeditions like this. Those concerns are especially relevant here, where DOJ is investigating a website that served as a hub for the planning and exercise of First Amendment-protected activities."
"DreamHost did the right thing," Rumold added, "it stood up for its users."
DreamHost and the DOJ will face off in court this Friday, on August 18.
Image credits: Wikimedia Foundation