A local judge in Washington, DC has ruled largely in favor of DreamHost, saying that the Department of Justice overstepped when it initially sought 1.3 million IP addresses that were logged at a website that helped organizes nationwide protests against President Donald Trump on his inauguration day earlier this year.
Federal authorities had initially obtained a warrant against DreamHost, the host of the disruptj20.org site, as part of its investigation into rioting and other violence on January 20, 2017. The Tuesday ruling comes less than two months after government lawyers told the court it didn’t mean to seek so many IP addresses after all.
Under new guidelines, DreamHost will not have to provide IP addresses, or any other identifying information unless the government can show that a particular person was involved in alleged criminal behavior.
On Tuesday afternoon, Chief Judge Robert E. Morin, of the District of Columbia Superior Court, ruled that while the DOJ could execute its warrant, “it does not have the right to rummage through the information contained on DreamHost’s website and discover the identity of, or access communications by, individuals not participating in alleged criminal activity, particularly those who were engaging in protected First Amendment activities.”
Chris Ghazarian, DreamHost’s attorney who vigorously challenged the government’s efforts in court, told Ars by e-mailed that the judge imposed “significant changes that will protect the rights of innocent internet users.”
“There are also quite a few modifications that further reduce the government’s ability to review unrelated data,” he continued. “This was our fight from the beginning. This is another victory not just for DreamHost, but for Internet users around the world.”
However, Paul Alan Levy, a lawyer for Public Citizen, an advocacy organization that is representing people who visited the site anonymously, isn’t totally on board with all the nuances of the judge’s ruling.
“The judge has decided to allow a search of emails from anonymous users (without their identifying information) even though the government never showed that it had a good reason to look at those emails,” Levy e-mailed in a statement.
“And he will allow the government to make its justifications under seal, based on a presumption (without any evidence) that secrecy is needed to protect the government’s investigation. In this way, the judge is denying Public Citizen and DreamHost the opportunity to explain why the government’s arguments for a search protocol or access to a particular record should be rejected.”