A DC Superior Court judge will hear arguments next week related to a sweeping government search warrant served on a company which hosted an Inauguration Day protest website.
DreamHost, LLC turned over records last January to the U.S. Attorney’s office when it requested information about the owners of disruptj20.org, a website of information about planned protests against Trump’s inauguration. But the Los Angeles company balked when the DOJ served a search warrant in July seeking all stored electronic communications related to the website. In its written response to the U.S. Attorney’s motion to compel, DreamHost says the warrant requires “unreasonable,” “all-encompassing disclosures” in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
According to DreamHost, it must “turn over every piece of information it has about every visitor to a website expressing political views concerning the current administration.” The most controversial portion of the search warrant concerns HTTP logs, which contain the IP address of every visitor to the website, time and date of visit, webpages viewed, and even a description of software running on their computer.
DreamHost has maintained HTTP logs for over 1.3 million IP addresses of visitors to the website, it says.
“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,” DreamHost’s written argument reads. “The Search Warrant also includes a demand that DreamHost disclose the content of all e-mail inquiries and comments submitted from numerous private e-mail accounts and prompted by the website, all through a single sweeping warrant.”
DreamHost’s lawyer Chris Ghazarian calls the DOJ warrant “a highly untargeted demand that chills free association and the right of free speech afforded by the Constitution.”
More than 200 people were rounded up by police and arrested on January 20 during protests in Washington, DC on Inauguration Day. Among hundreds marching on downtown streets, several “black bloc” protesters allegedly broke windows, threw projectiles at police officers and set fire to a limosine. Police responded with excessive force, deploying tear gas canisters, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and pepper spray on large crowds, including bystanders. All arrestees, including several journalists, were charged with multiple felonies.
The march—subsequently described as a “riot” by prosecutors–was only one of many actions planned by several groups to disrupt the inauguration. Several groups formed a coalition under the banner #DisruptJ20. Its website laid out goals including setting a “tone of resistance against the Trump administration,” disrupting the normal flow of the inauguration, and empowering local organizers in D.C.
Property “in violation” of the D.C. rioting statute will be found stored in DreamHost’s electronic files, according to the search warrant. The U.S. Attorney is pursuing felony “conspiracy to riot” charges for those arrested on January 20.
Police and the U.S. Attorney’s office have gone to great lengths to obtain evidence of conspiracy. Police confiscated and searched the cellphones of everyone arrested; broke down the door and raided the house of a local activist, seizing computers, phones, speakers and a TV; and served search warrants to Facebook and Apple demanding activists’ electronic records. Such searches have led many to believe that the DOJ is seeking to identify networks of connections in order to surveil and squash a dissident movement opposed to the current administration.
Mark Rumold, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Los Angeles Times that the scope of the DreamHost warrant has no purpose “other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible.”
A hearing, originally scheduled for August 18, has been re-scheduled to Thursday, August 24. Judge Lynn Liebovitz, the judge who is hearing all the cases related to the arrests downtown on Inauguration Day, was to hear arguments, but now Chief Judge Robert Morin will preside. The hearing is at 10 a.m. in Room 315 of Moultrie Courthouse.
At the moment, the case docket is not publicly accessible. Search warrants are always confidential by DC law or court order until they are executed, according to Leah Gurowitz, Director of Government and Public Affairs, District of Columbia Courts. The U.S. Attorney, however, is filing a motion to open the record, she said.