By David Meyer
August 23, 2017

The website-hosting service DreamHost has welcomed the Department of Justice’s decision to narrow its demand for information about visitors to an anti-Donald Trump website. However, the company said it will still fight the government over the case.

The site in question, DisruptJ20.org, was used to coordinate Washington, D.C. protests on January 20, the day of Trump’s inauguration. A couple hundred people were charged after rioting took place, and last week DreamHost—whose systems host the website—revealed that the Justice Department was trying to get at data that could be used to identify the site’s visitors.

One of the main things that led DreamHost to fight back was the fact that the DOJ wanted it to hand over a list of all the IP addresses that identify the computers used to access DisruptJ20.org. That’s around 1.3 million IP addresses in total, and DreamHost’s lawyers said the request was too broad.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed a brief in which it said it had previously not grasped “the extent of visitor data maintained by DreamHost that extends beyond the government’s singular focus in this case of investigating the planning, organization, and participation in the January 20, 2017 riot.”

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“The government has no interest in records relating to the 1.3 million IP addresses,” the brief stated. So now the government is not only shedding this aspect of its request; it also claims it will set aside and seal any information DreamHost hands over that is outside the scope of its warrant. However, it still wants information about the protest organizers’ identities and private messages, among other things.

DreamHost characterized the DOJ’s decision as a victory. “We see this as a huge win for internet privacy, and we absolutely appreciate the DOJ’s willingness to look at and reconsider both the scope and the depth of their original request for records. That’s all we asked them to do in the first place, honestly,” DreamHost wrote in a blog post.

However, the service said it still finds aspects of the Justice Department’s demand to be “problematic” under the first and fourth amendments, which respectively protect free speech and guard against unreasonable searches and seizures. It will argue its case in a hearing on Thursday.

“Before it was more or less a dragnet and a witch hunt and now it’s just a witch hunt,” Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorney Mark Rumold, whose digital rights organization has been supporting DreamHost in its fight, told Gizmodo. “It’s substantially narrower but they’re still after a substantial amount of content.”

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