Federal prosecutors scale back request for info on visitors to anti-Trump website

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Tech firm DreamHost had objected to government request for 1.3 million IP addresses

Federal prosecutors Tuesday tried to quell concern from privacy advocates by amending the government’s demand for millions of IP addresses from a Los Angeles-based tech company as part of an investigation into rioters in Washington during the Jan. 20 inauguration.

In July, a D.C. Superior Court judge signed a warrant filed by federal prosecutors in which they demanded more than 1.3 million IP addresses to identify visitors to the website, Disruptj20.org, from the company which hosts the site, DreamHost. Prosecutors say the website was used to coordinate violent protests during President Trump’s inauguration.

DreamHost and other privacy rights advocates such as the nonprofit group Public Citizen argued the warrant violated the users’ constitutional rights. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday in D.C. Superior Court before Judge Robert E. Morin, the court’s chief judge. Attorneys for DreamHost and the government are expected to argue over the legal authority of such a warrant.

In a filing late Tuesday, prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in the District amended the original warrant by saying they plan to focus only on the 200 or so individuals who have already been charged with rioting.

The 1.3 million Internet Protocol addresses, prosecutors say, were from computer users who visited the website between Jan. 23 and Jan. 28, 2017, days after the inauguration and are not part of the case.

“The government has no interest in records relating to the 1.3 million IP addresses that are mentioned in DreamHost’s numerous press releases and opposition briefs,” prosecutors wrote in their filing. Prosecutors also said that they would “set aside” and seal any information obtained from DreamHost that is not originally sought after and specifically in the warrant. Prosecutors, however, did say they could revisit such information obtained but would only do so with a court order.

As part of their amended request, prosecutors said they were seeking email addresses associated with Disruptj20.org, as well as email addresses of third parties associated with the website.

Prosecutors are seeking membership discussion lists associated with the website, as well as more than 2,000 photographs associated with the site. Prosecutors are also asking for unpublished material such as “draft blog posts” and “hundreds” of other images.

“We see this as a huge win for Internet privacy,” the company said in a statement and that it “appreciates” the government’s “willingness to look at and reconsider both the scope and the depth of their original request for records.”

The company said, however, it still has a “few issues” that it considers “problematic” with the warrant that it plans to address at Thursday’s hearing.

In the amended filing, prosecutors said they were unaware at the time of their initial July warrant request of the more specified material, which they are now seeking as evidence for their case.

“The government is focused on the criminal acts of defendants and their co-conspirators, and not their political views — and certainly not the lawful activities of peaceful protesters,” the prosecutors wrote in the new filing. “Similarly, the government is focused on the use of the Website to organize, to plan, and to effect a criminal act — that is, a riot.”

Prosecutors have charged more than 200 people with various charges associated with the inauguration riots and have obtained 19 guilty pleas. Trials for about 200 defendants are scheduled to begin this fall and last through 2018.

Read more:

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Tech firm is fighting a federal demand for data on visitors to an anti-Trump website

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