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CISA Accused of Overstepping Legal Bounds by Monitoring Domestic Social Media, GOP-Led Cmte. Report

The Critical Infrastructure and Cybersecurity Agency (CISA), a federal entity tasked with safeguarding essential services and countering cyber threats, has been indicted for overstepping its legal boundaries by monitoring domestic social media posts for misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation after the 2016 election, as per a preliminary report by a House committee steered by Republicans.


The joint report, issued by the House Judiciary Committee and Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government, blames CISA for indirectly and directly censoring American citizens through third-party intermediaries. The report is backed by internal emails and meeting notes from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).


The 41-page report's key allegations revolve around transformations within the agency since the 2016 election. A January 2017 report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence underscored Russia's significant upsurge in direct involvement, activity levels, and operational scope to influence the election. However, the report did not evaluate the impact of these activities on the election's result.


The House Judiciary Committee's report, laden with political language, alleges that CISA expanded its foreign "disinformation" monitoring to encompass all disinformation, including American citizens' speech.


House Republicans claim that due to severe criticism from DHS's Disinformation Governance Board and concerns about CISA's broadened scope, the department began erasing references to domestic 'misinformation' and 'disinformation' from CISA's website.


The committee's report points to concerns raised by some election officials about CISA's engagement with domestic speech related to elections. The report refers to a warning by an official from the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) that CISA must operate within its mission parameters and specifically focus on misinformation and disinformation linked to cybersecurity matters.


The report also claims that even within the DHS, there were concerns about how the expanded operations would be perceived.


The report points to an email exchange from May 2022 between Suzanne Spaulding, a former senior intelligence official involved in the project, and Dr. Kate Starbird, co-founder of the University of Washington's Center for an Informed Public. The exchange acknowledged their work's vulnerabilities and the increasing public scrutiny.


The Republican-led committee and subcommittee criticize the government's attempts to mitigate the domestic proliferation of misinformation and disinformation. The "Protecting Critical Infrastructure from Misinformation & Disinformation" Subcommittee, which advised CISA and later disbanded, released two sets of formal recommendations in 2022.


The report reveals that due to "political environment and legal risks," the MDM Committee edited their recommendations to remove most mentions of 'monitoring'.


Starbird responded to the committee's report, calling it a gross misrepresentation of her work and the advisory board's efforts. She denied any involvement in censorship or advocating for limitations on speech on social media platforms.


CISA's Executive Director, Brandon Wales, stated that CISA never censored or facilitated censorship, calling such allegations baseless.


Wales stressed that CISA's mission is to minimize risks to US critical infrastructure while respecting Americans' freedom of speech, civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy. CISA shares information on election literacy and security to counteract foreign influence operations and disinformation that could compromise election infrastructure.


The committee's report argues that labeling speech as 'misinformation' doesn't remove its First Amendment protection, even if it's untrue. It suggests that some falsities are unavoidable for a robust public and private conversation.

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