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DoJ Subject to Strict Oversight in Anti-Trump Site Investigation

A US judge has ruled that the Department of Justice (DoJ) must operate under strict court oversight when searching data associated with an anti-Trump website to find a group of alleged rioters.

Web hosting firm DreamHost has been locked in dispute with the government after it demanded access to data on 1.3 million visitors of the disruptj20.org protest site; including IP addresses, contact information, photos and more.

The hoster, helped by rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), argued that such a request was unconstitutional, breaking a First Amendment designed to protect political free speech and a Fourth Amendment which helps guard against dragnet seizure of information.

The DoJ subsequently narrowed its request, claiming it had no interest in the 1.3 million IP addresses of visitors to the site, but there remained privacy concerns.

Now DreamHost is claiming victory after chief judge Morin of the Superior Court of Washington DC ruled that the investigation would need significant oversight from the courts.

The department must present the court with a “minimization plan” which lists the names of all investigators with access to the data, and all the ways it will be searching that trove.

“The production of evidence from this trove of data will be overseen by the court. The DOJ is not permitted to perform this search in a bubble. It is, in fact, now required to make its case with the court to justify why they believe information acquired is or is not responsive to (aka: “covered by”) the warrant,” wrote DreamHost in a blog post.

“The court will then seal any information that is acquired but then deemed to be ‘not responsive’. After that point, this information will not be available to the government without a court order.”

The DoJ is also prohibited from disclosing the content of this responsive info to any other agency.

The EFF claimed that although the ruling is an important step, it still raises the possibility of the DoJ conducting a “general search” on the data; “the very danger that the Fourth Amendment is meant to guard against”.

“The revised warrant still seeks all ‘contents of e-mail accounts that are within the @disruptj20.org domain’ regardless of their participation or involvement with the January 20th protest. To date, the government has not publicly contended that any of the specific @disruptj20.org email addresses belong to anyone who has been accused of a specific crime during the January 20th protest,” argued EFF attorney, Stephanie Lacambra.

“Overseizure is especially troubling where, as in this case, First Amendment protected activity and speech is being threatened and chilled by the prospect of government intrusion. Our civil liberties should not be circumvented in the digital space just because the law has failed to keep up with the nuances of technology.”

In related news, DreamHost itself suffered a DDoS attack yesterday, lasting for several hours.

It’s unclear the rationale behind the attack, although the firm claimed yesterday to have unwittingly become the host of controversial white supremacist site Daily Stormer, via its automated sign-up page.

It has since ditched the neo-Nazi site.

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