Days after requesting details of 1.3m visitors of a website used to organise protests during Donald Trump's inauguration as US President, the Department of Justice has amended its demand, saying it wasn't aware that the information it sought was "so broad".
In a recent court filing, US Attorney Channing Phillips wrote, the "lawful warrant" issued by the government was solely designed to track people who used disruptj20.org to coordinate and organise a "premeditated riot" during Trump's inauguration ceremony.
He further stressed that the government wasn't targeting the First Amendment rights of political dissidents who casually visited the site, but was only looking for the select group involved in "the criminal act".
Phillips noted that the government never needed "over-broad" information for the criminal investigation, but had no other way to know how much information the site's host, DreamHost, had in store.
So, they went ahead with the warrant and requested all information relating to the website, including details of its owners and IP logs of millions of visitors.
The reply brief read, "The government has no interest in records relating to the 1.3 million IP addresses that are mentioned in DreamHost's numerous press releases and Opposition brief."
It also noted the facts presented by Dreamhost "were unknown to the government at the time it applied for and obtained the warrant". As a result, it "could not exclude from the scope of the warrant what it did not know existed".
That said, in an attempt to address privacy concerns flagged by Dreamhost, the department has now specified its request for information with a modified version of the warrant – one which clearly elucidates what the government needs to continue its investigation.
According to the amended request, DreamHost has to provide the website's "content and transactional information" for the time period from 1 July, 2016 to 20 January, 2017.
This includes public statements made by the organisers of DisruptJ20, but excludes "contents of unpublished draft publications (including images and their metadata), HTTP requests, and error logs".
Quelling fears of constitutional violations, the Department of Justice reassured that any information that goes beyond the scope of the modified warrant will be sealed away and not revisited without further notice from the court.
However, it is still unclear if the government organisation plans to use alternative methods of obtaining information about the visitors of the protest website.