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In the Matter of Search of www.disruptj20.org

Public Citizen represented five anonymous objectors seeking to intervene in an ongoing criminal case in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. In that case, the U.S. Department of Justice tried to enforce a search warrant against Dreamhost, the internet platform that hosts the protest website, DisruptJ20.org, to obtain information about the more than 1.3 million IP addresses of people who visited the website.

The search warrant was filed as part of a criminal prosecution against the more than 200 people arrested during the counter-inaugural actions on Jan. 20. Dreamhost resisted the warrant. Through the motion to intervene, Public Citizen asked the judge to allow the individuals whose rights are at issue to be heard in the proceeding.

The Government narrowed the warrant in response to our filing, excluding the IP addresses of casual visitors to the web site from the documents demanded.  The Court granted enforcement of the search warrant thus narrowed, subject to some conditions designed to ensure that, although prosecutors could examine all documents subject to the warrant, they could keep only those documents relevant to the criminal prosecution.

Public Citizen filed a motion for leave to intervene, on behalf of additional Doe Internet users, seeking to exclude from the warrant emails sent to and from the site, including the identifying information in those emails, and lists of members of listservs of people who had asked for further information about the suit.

In response, the Court issued a written opinion on September 15, 2017, expressing its concerns about the need to protect innocent Internet users who communicated with the web site from undue intrusion into their privacy, describing extra layers of scrutiny that would have to be built into the process of searching files obtained from DreamHost.  When the Government submitted a new proposed order, the Court held a hearing at which it told the Government various ways in which its proposed order failed to meet the constitutional requirements.

After the Government issued a third version of its proposed order, Public Citizen responded on behalf of its anonymous intervenor clients, arguing that no search of the emails to the site should be allowed, but arguing that even if some search of those documents was permissible, the Government’s proposed order required further tightening.