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Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency accused of trampling on Americans’ First Amendment

The Homeland Security Department is using its division on countering cyberthreats to act as “speech police,” and is trying to hide that fact, House lawmakers said.

A House Judiciary Committee report released Tuesday found the department’s cybersecurity agency used Big Tech and government-funded third parties to monitor and censor Americans’ online activities.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), lawmakers found, moved far beyond its original mission of monitoring foreign “disinformation” and has shifted its focus to “misinformation, disinformation and malinformation” originating from domestic sources.

The CISA actions were “highly troubling,” and in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution, lawmakers on the GOP-led panel said in the report.

“CISA has transformed into a domestic intelligence and speech-police agency, far exceeding its statutory authority,” they said.

The report found CISA, working with Twitter, “attempted to find ways to circumvent the First Amendment’s strictures by outsourcing the monitoring activity from the government to private entities.”

Leadership at CISA has long denied censoring Americans’ online speech. Director Jen Easterly said in her March 28 testimony before Congress that “we don’t flag anything to social media organizations at all. We are focused on building resilience to foreign influence and disinformation.”

But a DHS Office of Inspector General report found CISA began “notifying social media platforms or appropriate law enforcement officials when voting-related disinformation appeared in social media” as early as 2018 and continuing through the 2022 mid-term elections.

According to the report, state and local election officials used the CISA-funded entity to silence criticism and political dissent and cited an August 2022 instance in Loudoun County, Virginia.

A Loudoun County elections official reported as “misinformation” a Tweet with an unedited video of a county official, complaining it was “part of a larger campaign to discredit” that official’s word.

The website that posted the video, the Loudoun County election official noted, “is connected to Parents Against Critical Race Theory”

The Judiciary Committee report called the complaint “was nothing more than a politically motivated censorship attempt.”

CISA claimed that the social media platform could independently decide whether to remove or keep the post after being notified by them about a so-called misinformation threat.

Weeks before the midterm election, a Democratic state official in Pennsylvania tried to get CISA’s “misinformation” division to remove a tweet and Facebook post from Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, in which he asked, “Why is it only Democrat blue cities that take ‘days’ to count their votes? The rest of the country manages to get it done on election night.”

The state official said the tweet is “misleading to voters,” and “insinuating that because election results are not available on election night, something nefarious is happening in the counting process.”

The entity, working on behalf of CISA, “dutifully forwarded the complaint to Facebook,” and also reported it to Twitter, the report said.

The report found that DHS officials had become concerned their censoring would be discovered.

In a May 2022 email from Suzanne Spaulding, a former CIA official who worked on the project, she expressed concern to a colleague that, “It’s only a matter of time before someone starts asking about our work … I’m not sure this keeps until our public meeting in June.”

Kate Starbird, a University of Washington associate professor who served on the CISA Cybersecurity Advisory Committee, responded, “Yes. I agree. We have a couple of pretty obvious vulnerabilities,” and said the two needed to “make a plan.”
CISA Executive Director Brandon Wales disputed the Committee’s report.

“CISA does not and has never censored speech or facilitated censorship; any such claims are patently false,” he said in a statement to The Washington Times. “Every day, the men and women of CISA execute the agency’s mission of reducing risk to U.S. critical infrastructure in a way that protects Americans’ freedom of speech, civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy.”

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