Facing an upcoming hearing on an allegedly overbroad search warrant targeting organizers of anti-Trump protests, the government asked a court to narrow the warrant in a new filing Tuesday.
In its filing with the Superior Court in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said the government was unaware of how much information the original warrant encompassed. The warrant, issued to the website hosting company DreamHost, requested records kept on disruptj20.org, a site used to organize protests during President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
DreamHost refused to comply, and a hearing on the case is scheduled for Thursday.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office proposed altering the warrant so the company only provides records from the time between the creation of disruptj20.org and the inauguration. It also doesn’t need to provide unpublished drafts of pages or other content associated with the website, nor provide HTTP logs, which DreamHost argues would mean turning over the IP addresses of 1.3 million users.
“The government believes that, collectively, these modifications to [the warrant] minimize the disclosure of data that is not directly related to the criminal investigation, thereby reducing the burden on DreamHost to disclose information and reducing the burden on the government to conduct its search,” according to the brief. “Such modifications should amply address the First Amendment/Fourth Amendment reasonableness concerns raised by DreamHost.”
In an email, DreamHost’s lawyer, Raymond Aghaian of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, said the government has “withdrawn entirely its unlawful and highly problematic request for any data relating to the visitors of the website and any unpublished data subject to the Privacy Protection Act.”
“This is a tremendous win for DreamHost, its users and the public,” Aghaian wrote. However, he noted there were other First and Fourth amendment issues with the warrant. He said those issues will be addressed in a separate filing by DreamHost, and at Thursday’s hearing.
Aghaian said he will likely file a brief in response Wednesday.
The court approved the original warrant as part of the office’s ongoing investigation into violations of the district’s anti-rioting statute on Inauguration Day. More than 200 people were charged with violating the statute that day, 19 of whom have pleaded guilty, according to the brief.
DreamHost refused to comply with the original July 12 search warrant, prompting the U.S. Attorney’s Office to file a motion to force it to do so on July 28. DreamHost argued the warrant was overly broad by requiring information on millions of visitors in violation of the Fourth and Eighth amendments. The company also said the warrant would yield unpublished “work products,” in violation of the Privacy Protection Act.
A group of anonymous visitors to the website, represented by lawyers from the advocacy group Public Citizen, also sought to intervene in the case to protect their individual rights Monday.
In the brief, the government maintained its original warrant was lawful, but it was unaware DreamHost kept such detailed records on the website, including the IP addresses of millions of visitors.
“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 brief said. “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.”
Aghaian said the government’s contention it’s prior request was justified was “disconcerting.”