DreamHost ordered to turn over anti-Trump site visitor details

25 Aug 2017

Trump inauguration protest in Portland, Oregon. Image: Diego G Diaz/Shutterstock

The US Department of Justice has been granted access to visitor data from an anti-Trump protest site.

In a Washington DC courtroom, web-hosting platform DreamHost squared up to the US Department of Justice (DoJ) at a hearing on Thursday (August 24).

The court sided with the DoJ and, as a result, DreamHost will have to turn over user information and credentials, including email addresses, to the organisation.

The legal battle has been ongoing since last week, after DreamHost received the original search warrant from officials for records on protest organisation site, disrupt20.org.

Data will be strictly monitored

In previous developments, the government scaled back the request for data, saying it would no longer require IP addresses from DreamHost. The presiding judge ordered the company to comply with the amended search request, but how the data handed over is searched will be carefully monitored by the court.

The DoJ will be required to present the court with a minimisation plan, including the names of all government officials who will have access to the data DreamHost is now obliged to provide. The court will then seal any information that is not relevant to the case. The DoJ is not allowed to share the content of the data seized with any other government agency.

A win for internet privacy

In a statement on its website, DreamHost explained its problem with the original request: “We took issue with the sheer scope of this single request for information. Collecting the browsing habits of many tens of thousands of general internet users (who were exercising their own right to free speech and free assembly) in the pursuit of a criminal investigation against a single website owner raised strong first and fourth amendment questions for us.

“Despite the narrowing of the DOJ’s request for data, individual website visitors could still potentially be identified via emails and discussion lists.

“The core issue remained: many users could find themselves, and their actions online, caught up in an investigation in which they were not the targets.”

Despite the court order, and the possibility for appeal, DreamHost chose to remain optimistic. “This is an enormous privacy win for all internet users and for any service providers that host user-generated content online.”

Trump inauguration protest, Portland, Oregon. Image: Diego G Diaz/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects