D.C. court approves DOJ warrant for anti-Trump website data

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday ruled in favor of the Department of Justice’s ability to exercise a search warrant for data related to an anti-Trump website the DOJ believes is connected to plans for violent Inauguration Day riots.

The Justice Department had originally sought a slew of records related to the website Disruptj20.com from its website hosting company, DreamHost, including HTTP visitor logs that would reveal IP addresses for all of the website’s visitors. But DreamHost objected to the Justice Department’s request and said it could reveal 1.3 million visitors’ identities. The DOJ earlier this week said that it was revising its warrant to include a date range on material it requested, to exclude all visitor logs and the website’s draft blog posts that were never published. Chief Judge Robert E. Morin granted that revised request Thursday, although DreamHost fears the DOJ will still access some IP addresses given that it will still be able to access emails related to Inauguration Day protests. 

The DOJ believes Disruptj20.com could reveal plans that led to protests that turned violent when President Trump took office. Authorities have charged more than 200 people with felony rioting or destruction of property in connection to Inauguration Day

The court will supervise the warrant’s implementation, although it won’t be executed immediately if DreamHost files an appeal. Attorneys for the website hosting company told reporters Thursday they are considering an appeal.

DreamHost maintains that the government’s revised request is still too broad and unconstitutional, citing Fourth Amendment concerns. The judge acknowledged the free speech concerns surrounding the request, and said he sought to seek a balance between law enforcement and constitutional rights. 

The case has concerned privacy advocates who fear the government is encroaching on both First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights, and related expectations of privacy. The government’s original request for IP address-revealing visitor logs would have encompassed anyone who visited the website, including people who stumbled upon the site or visited for academic or journalistic reasons. One defendant, Raymond Aghaian, compared the government’s request to using a warrant to search and seize all rooms in an apartment building. 

CBS News’ John Bat contributed to this report. 

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