Court blocks Sessions’ Justice Dept from identifying Facebook users of anti-Trump page

The Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has appeared determined to weaken, expose and prosecute the political activists opposed to the Trump administration who participated in the DisruptJ20 protests during Donald Trump’s inauguration.

As part of its investigation into those involved in the protests, the Justice Department was granted a search warrant that allowed it to collect a broad array of information about DisruptJ20 and the millions of visitors to its website.

As Slate put it, “In short, the government is looking for records of everyone who even visited the site, which is to say it’s effectively compiling info on those who showed even a modicum of interest in protesting the administration.”

But a Washington, D.C. court has limited the scope of the Justice Department’s search warrants for the organization’s Facebook page this week, preventing it from gaining access to information that would identify third-party Facebook users who may have at one time interacted with the page, but are not being investigated for criminal rioting.

Now, a judge has required the information gathering process to have “procedural safeguards” so that those who are not connected the Justice Department’s investigation do not have their data tied up in the search. The DOJ investigators must now seek approval from the Washington D.C. Superior Court for its intended search methods as they comb through the information collected via the warrants. Facebook must also now submit the requested data with redactions preventing individuals from being identified.

As part of the ruling, the DOJ investigators will no longer be requesting the identities of Facebook users who liked or followed the public DisruptJ20 Facebook page.

A similar protocol was already put in place for the DisruptJ20 website, and warrants related to the website and the Facebook page allow investigators access to data related to the sites during the period between November 1, 2016, and February 9, 2017.