DHS Efforts to Police Disinformation Could Threaten Free Speech, House Republicans Warn

House Republicans warned that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) cybersecurity arm could threaten online free speech in potential efforts to police disinformation on topics like racial justice, the financial markets, and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Accountability, led by Chairman Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), held a May 11 hearing on censorship, citing concerns about the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

During his opening remarks, Bishop outlined how CISA will likely work moving forward, including utilizing its “switchboard” operation and other methods to target areas such as racial justice, the war in Ukraine, financial markets, and other issues by restricting online activity around the information.

“DHS documents suggest that CISA wants to target issues as wide-ranging as racial justice, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine, and financial markets,” Bishop said. “The government supported and funded NGOs, to try to fill the gap of the things that government could not do themselves. That is just incredible.

“I’m gravely concerned with CISA’s efforts in this space; how on earth was this censorship laundering enterprise allowed to metastasize? Where are the civil liberties protectors within DHS, and what are they doing?”

Republicans and the panelists expressed concerns on how CISA interacted with the private sector, particularly tech companies, during elections and the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that certain types of information were censored.

Ranking member Glenn Ivey (D-Md.) had a different take, saying he initially thought the focus of the committee hearing would be on “dealing with false information, misinformation, disinformation.”

“Disinformation, false information is aimed at undermining the United States and creating additional problems for the United States to be used against us,” Ivey said, asserting that issues like “election denial” and cartel false information were likely more pressing issues.

Expert panelists, including investigative journalist Ben Weingarten, epidemiologist Martin Kulldorff, and professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss, testified on the potential consequences of CISA’s focused approach. Jonathan Turley, a public interest law expert, also shared insights.

The hearing raised concerns about the impact of CISA’s targeted actions on free speech and dissent, as well as discussions on the balance between national security and protecting constitutional rights in the digital age.

As a demonstration of the issues that brought about the hearing, there was a video clip featuring Jen Easterly, CISA director, who outlined her agency’s goal. “Our mission is critical infrastructure,” she said. “The most important critical infrastructure there is, is our cognitive infrastructure, and so building that resilience is part of the mission set in my view.”

Bishop reacted to Easterly’s comments, saying, “George Orwell called, and he wants his dystopian future back.”

Bishop explained the breadth of the issue of censorship, saying, “It’s not just for elections, the same network using the same tools censored dozens of purportedly false COVID-19 narratives, many of which have subsequently been acknowledged as being true. So where’s this headed? What is stopping DHS from overreaching its jurisdiction again to censor more Americans on whatever it deems critical infrastructure?”

A spokesperson for DHS responded to The Epoch Times’ request for comment on the hearing saying, “The Department of Homeland Security does not censor speech and does not request that content be taken down by social media companies.

“When it comes to DHS’ work, the Department is focused on disinformation that threatens the security of the American people, including disinformation spread by foreign states such as Russia, China, and Iran, or other adversaries such as transnational criminal organizations and human smuggling organizations. Such malicious actors often spread disinformation to exploit vulnerable individuals and the American public, including during national emergencies.”

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