Justice Dept. Decides It No Longer Wants Info On 1.3 Million Visitors To Anti-Trump Site

The U.S. Department of Justice recently tried to compel a website hosting company to turn over all the information the company has on the approximately 1.3 million internet users who visited a site created to organize a protest during President Trump’s inauguration. Now the DOJ is rethinking that plan, withdrawing its demand for this mountain of data.

The DOJ contends that the website DisruptJ20.org was “used to organize a riot” on the morning of Trump’s Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C.

As part of its case against the site, the DOJ served a sweeping warrant [PDF] on web-hosting company DreamHost, seeking virtually every piece of information DreamHost might have about DisruptJ20 and its visitors.

Not surprisingly, this rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, including the folks at DreamHost, who have been fighting the warrant in court.

Now, the DOJ says its original intent for the warrant is being misunderstood, and that the government did not know when it drafted the warrant that DreamHost had retained such extensive user data.

“The Warrant — like the criminal investigation — is singularly focused on criminal activity,” explained the DOJ in a brief [PDF] filed yesterday with a D.C. Superior Court judge. “It will not be used for any other purpose.”

According to the brief, the warrant “was not intended to be used, and will not be used, to ‘identify the political dissidents of the current administration,’ Nor will it be used to ‘chill free association and the right of free speech afforded by the Constitution.'”

More bluntly, the brief states that “The government has no interest in records relating to the 1.3 million IP addresses” previously referenced by DreamHost on its blog and its court filing.

The DOJ says that any evidence seized from DreamHost that is not within the scope of the warrant will be sealed and will not be revisited without getting a second court order.

The government’s brief seeks to exclude unpublished content on the site, and also data related to general access of the DisruptJ20 site, meaning most user info will no longer be included in the DOJ warrant.

DreamHost calls the DOJ’s change of course a “victory” for internet privacy but cautions that “Much of the DOJ’s original demand for information is still in place, and there are still a few issues that we consider to be problematic for a number of reasons.”

The company is continuing to challenge the warrant on First and Fourth Amendment grounds and will be in court tomorrow (Thursday, Aug. 24) for another hearing related to this dispute.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.