D.C. Judge Approves Warrant for Government Access to Inauguration Protesters’ Data

By Alex Meyer

The legal battle between the U.S. government and DreamHost, owner of disruptj20.org (used to organize protests during the January inauguration), yielded a ruling in the last week of August. As reported on Yahoo! Tech, Judge Robert E. Morin ruled in favor of government search warrants for the visitor records, a motion designed to uncover “evidence of certain crimes”.

Lawyer for DreamHost, Raymond Aghaian, stated that:

“having the government have access to the information of the public and, as the court has deemed, the innocent third-party users, having them see that information and identify who these political dissidents were, is problematic”

The order came with certain restrictions: the government must list the names of investigative agents, the processes by which it will search the website as well as steps it will take to mitigate intrusion into innocent users’ data. Aghaian reiterated that this failed to address the underlying dispute, namely, that DreamHost believes it should not be coerced into turning over data on innocent users, even if the government decides not to retain their data.

The case echoes other actions by federal agencies in recent months, namely a recent summons by the Department of Homeland Security to Twitter ordering the organization to hand over user data that would identify the individuals behind #ALT_USCIS, an account that criticizes policies pursued by the current administration. Though the motion was abandoned by the government (as detailed in one of our previous podcasts), it underscored a worrying trend of threats to anonymous free speech.

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