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US Government Seeks Information On Thousands Of Protest Website Visitors

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Dreamhost said it plans to fight a search warrant demanding information on a protest site, including the IP addresses of all 1.3 million visitors

A US web hosting company has said it plans to fight an effort by the Department of Justice (DoJ) to identify all those who visited a site set up to organise protests against the presidential administration.

The DoJ’s move appears to be a continuation of prosecutions of hundreds of those involved in protests on 20 January, presidential inauguration day.

Search warrant

In a search warrant dated 17 July, the department asked Dreamhost to provide every piece of information it had related to disruptj20.org, a website set up to organise inauguration day protests. The request included information on the owners of the site as well as the IP addresses of 1.3 million visitors, the date and time of the visits and what browser and operating system was used.

Dreamhost said it initially provided the DoJ with “limited customer information about the owner” of disruptj20.org when it first received a grand jury sobpoena a week following the protests. The government then returned in July with the much broader search warrant.

police handcuff security crime keyboard © Oleksiy Mark ShutterstockThe warrant was made public this week when Dreamhost announced it plans to challenge a DoJ motion to compel it to produce the records. Dreamhost’s general counsel Chris Ghazarian filed arguments in opposition to the DoJ’s request on Friday and a hearing is scheduled for this coming Friday in Washington DC.

‘Overreach’

“This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority,” Dreamhost said in a blog post.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has been advising Dreamhost, called the DoJ’s move “unconstitutional”.

“No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth, other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible,” wrote EFF senior staff attorney Mark Rumold in a blog post. “DoJ is investigating a website that served as a hub for the planning and exercise of First Amendment-protected activities.”

The DoJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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