The government will try to convince a judge next week to let it seize records of everyone who visited a website used to organize protests during President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The company, DreamHost, refuses to comply with a search warrant that requests a broad swath of information related to a website it hosts, disruptj20.org, which was used to organize protests during Trump’s inauguration. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. filed a motion with the D.C. Superior Court to require DreamHost to show cause as to why it shouldn’t be required to comply. Chief Judge Robert Morin is set to hear the case on Aug. 24.
DreamHost argues the warrant, which requires the disclosure of information on more than a million website visitors, is a stark violation of users’ Fourth Amendment rights. The company’s lawyer, San Francisco-based Raymond Aghaian of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, said he isn’t aware of any similar cases in the D.C. court.
“What really stood out to us is the scope and breadth of the information that was requested, which was unusual,” Aghaian said. “This [warrant] would allow the government to essentially see and identify who these folks were that were on the site and what they did.”
The company created a page on the crowdfunding website CrowdJustice on Friday to help pay for the legal costs of the fight. The page raised $940 by 12:30 p.m. Friday, with a goal of $10,000.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment beyond its court filings.
Unlike the government’s motion, the affidavit explaining why the warrant is necessary is sealed. More than 200 people have been indicted so far on rioting charges in connection with the Jan. 20 protests in D.C.
The case touches on the question of how much leeway the government has to search electronic communications. The issue is currently playing out in both state and federal courts across the country.
Just this week, technology companies including Apple and Google filed amicus briefs in a case to be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court next fall on whether the government needs a warrant to collect cellphone data. The New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in that state, declined to quash a government warrant earlier this year to search Facebook account information for more than 100 users.
So what legal issues will be in play in this case? Here’s what to know:
The Fourth Amendment: The government’s warrant asks for all records pertaining to the DistruptJ20 website, which includes identifying information about which computers accessed the site and when, as well as emails associated with the site, DreamHost said in its brief. The company said that includes not only the email addresses of the organizers of the site but also the content of emails sent to them through the site.
As an electronic communications service provider, DreamHost receives hundreds of warrants and other legal requests per year, Aghaian said. But in this case, the government didn’t put any limits on its request.
“Everything that we had, they wanted,” he said.
In its motion to show cause, the government said the court “already imposed limitations” on what DreamHost is required to produce when it issued the warrant. The limitations, the brief said, are clear: the government can only search the types of records it noted in the warrant, and can only seize “information that constituted ‘evidence, contraband, instrumentalities, or fruits of violations of [D.C.’s rioting code].’”
DreamHost isn’t alone in claiming the warrant is overly broad. Jim Harper, vice president of the pro-business group Competitive Enterprise Institute and a former member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee, also filed a brief earlier this week in the Supreme Court cellphone case.
Source: Law Journal