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Protesters block members of the press as they chain themselves to an entry point prior at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in Washington, DC, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston - RTSWGFD

Internet company DreamHost fights government request for records related to Inauguration Day protest

WASHINGTON — An internet company is fighting what it says is a “sweeping” request for information about an anti-Trump website that prosecutors allege was behind destructive Inauguration Day protests. The company says the government is seeking information about 1.3 million visitors to the site, among other information.

More than 200 people were charged after protesters broke windows and set fire to a limousine on President Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day on Jan. 20. Prosecutors say the website disruptj20.org was used in the “development, planning, advertisement, and organization of a violent riot,” and they obtained a search warrant in July ordering the company that hosted the website, DreamHost, to turn over information.

But California-based DreamHost says the warrant violates the Constitution and a federal privacy law. The company said in a blog post Monday that it’s being asked to turn over IP addresses of those who visited the site plus “contact information, email content and photos of thousands of people.” The company said that “information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment.”

“That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind,” the post says.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment beyond what had been filed in court. A court filing by prosecutors says the search warrant was “properly issued.”

A hearing in Superior Court in Washington was scheduled for Friday, but has been postponed.

Mark Rumold, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group supporting DreamHost, says such sweeping seizures are usually reserved for investigations of websites devoted to criminal activity like child pornography.

“Here, the concerns are exacerbated because we’re dealing with core, protected First Amendment activities,” he said.

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