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August 24, 2017 – Earlier Thursday, Public Citizen argued in court that the U.S. government has no legal justification for seeking information about people who accessed a website organizing protests for President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Judge Robert E. Morin ordered DreamHost, the internet platform that hosts the protest website, DisruptJ20.org, to turn over emails and other computer information of users who interacted with the site before Trump’s inauguration. The judge said that he would supervise the government’s use of the data after the government obtains it, or make sure that only speech relevant to a criminal prosecution is being seized.
Morin’s ruling came in response to a modified request from U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers who narrowed the parameters of their search warrant after a court date earlier this week. On Tuesday, DOJ lawyers dropped their initial request for the IP addresses of people who visited DisruptJ20.org. The DOJ’s search warrant sought to obtain roughly 1.3 million IP addresses – a request the government later said it did not realize was so broad.
“The court’s actions to protect DreamHost visitors today, are better than nothing but it’s still not enough to protect their First Amendment rights,” said Paul Alan Levy, attorney for Public Citizen. “This is a case about a website that is engaged in political speech and the unnamed users should be alerted that their information may be eventually turned over to the government, so that they have a chance to protect their own rights. And a judge should pass on the relevance of speech before government agents see it, not afterward.”
Paul Alan Levy is an attorney with Public Citizen’s Litigation Group. Public Citizen filed a motion in the DreamHost case on behalf of several anonymous internet users who visited DisruptJ20.org for personal or professional reasons in the months leading up to the inauguration protests.