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The DOJ is demanding IDs of people who visited anti-Trump site, but web host won't comply

  • DreamHost says the government is seeking data on more than one million visitors to a website it hosts.
  • The company believes the data request is overly broad.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on February 28, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
Zach Gibson | Getty Images
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on February 28, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Web hosting company DreamHost said on Monday that it would not comply with the U.S. Justice Department's request for data on more than 1 million visitors to a site it hosts.

Last month the federal agency sent DreamHost a search warrant for files, HTTP requests, error logs and other data that contain IP addresses and email addresses of people who have visited website disruptj20.org.

The activist group was behind a coordinated effort to organize "mass protests to shut down the inauguration of Donald Trump," according to its DisruptJ20's site.

Other hosting companies and web service providers regularly acknowledge government data requests, but site visitor data isn't typically requested. In recent months Alphabet, Cloudflare, Microsoft and other companies have publicly posted redacted versions of national security letters they have received after disclosure bans were lifted. In most cases, the U.S. government was only seeking data for individual account holders.

"A lot of these issues have only been about a single customer, a single account -- very narrow in scope," said Chris Ghazarian, general counsel at DreamHost, in an interview. "This is a completely different issue. This is not just about this account. It's not just about users of the account. It's about the internet users and about the community as a whole."

DreamHost responded to the Justice Department's data request by saying it was asking for too much. The government then asked the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to compel DreamHost to hand over the data, as the company detailed in a blog post.

DreamHost told the court that the search warrant violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, and would endanger First Amendment interests of website visitors.

Ghazarian will attend a hearing about the case in the court on Friday. DreamHost has worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the past but never this closely, Ghazarian said.

Founded in 1997 and based in Los Angeles, DreamHost has 400,000 customers and hosts 1.5 million websites. In 2014 the company received 466 government data requests and fewer than 1,000 national security letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requests, according to its website.

"We've never escalated a case this far," Ghazarian said, adding that he was not sure what caused the Justice Department to make such a wide-ranging request.