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Judge approves limited search warrant for data on anti-Trump protesters

Lauren Rosenblatt
Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — A District of Columbia judge ruled Thursday that a Los Angeles-based web host provider must provide the government with digital data from a website widely used to help organize protests against President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.

The ruling by District of Columbia Superior Court Chief Judge Robert E. Morin marked a win for the government, although Morin said he would supervise the government’s use of the data it collects from web host DreamHost.

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Chris Ghazarian, general counsel for DreamHost, said the company needed to review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

The Department of Justice initially filed a search warrant in July to obtain data from DreamHost about, a website associated with organizing demonstrations on Inauguration Day that resulted in about 200 arrests.

Christopher Ghazarian, general counsel of DreamHost, is photographed on Aug. 16, 2017 at his office in Los Angeles. DreamHost is fighting federal subpoena for information on web visitors to anti-Trump web site. Web hosting company DreamHost said that it would not comply with the U.S. Justice Department's request for data on more than 1 million visitors to a site it hosts. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The government said it needs the data to gather evidence for prosecutions of those involved in violence. The case was filed in a local court because the rioters were charged under District of Columbia law.

DreamHost refused to turn over the data, arguing that the warrant was overly broad in scope and thus unconstitutional. It said the website had registered more than 1 million visits, including people who did not take part in violent protests.

The government amended its search warrant request Tuesday to omit the digital addresses of visitors to, or any material that was written on the site but not posted online.

In a 90-minute hearing Thursday, Morin ruled from the bench that DreamHost must provide the government with all other data from that it sought under the search warrant.

But Morin put restrictions on what they could do with the material.

He ruled that the government must disclose how they plan to review the data, identify those involved in the process, and explain how they will avoid collecting protected information about “innocent visitors” to the website.

Morin also limited the scope of the search from when the website domain was created in October 2016 to Inauguration Day on Jan. 20. He also said Justice cannot distribute or publicize the data it collects, including to any other government agency.