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Subcommittee Chairman Bishop: “Silencing the Voices of the American People is Never Acceptable”

December 13, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today, House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Accountability Chairman Dan Bishop (R-NC) delivered the following opening statement in a hearing to examine the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) role at the center of a federal government scheme to censor the online voices of Americans. Watch the full hearing here.


Watch Chairman Bishop’s opening statement in a hearing entitled, “Censorship Laundering Part II: Preventing the Department of Homeland Security’s Silencing of Dissent.”

As prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon, and welcome to this hearing of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Accountability titled, “Censorship Laundering Part II: Preventing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Silencing of Dissent.

In May, this Subcommittee held our first hearing to examine the Department of Homeland Security’s role as the nerve center for the federal government’s scheme to censor the online voices of millions of Americans. What we learned during that hearing was deeply concerning. As Americans, we are committed to the idea that freedom of speech and open debate are essential features of a free society.

Make no mistake: the efforts to censor public discourse under the guise of so-called mis–, dis–, and mal-information (MDM) threaten this essential freedom and the very core of our republic. Now, through our own investigation and the incredible work of a small group of individuals dedicated to protecting Americans’ fundamental rights to discourse and debate – including several of our witnesses today – we have a far more complete picture of the censorship laundering complex and how it operates.

While we recognize the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s mission of protecting our institutions from legitimate cybersecurity threats, we cannot allow a component of the Department of Homeland Security to anchor a censorship laundering enterprise. Silencing the voices of the American people is never acceptable, and we must return the agency to its original mission.

Two major developments have been enormously helpful to our investigations into the true extent of DHS and CISA’s role in government censorship efforts. First, several lawsuits, most notably Missouri v. Biden, have made public vital evidence uncovering the scope and scale of government efforts to censor online speech. Second, Elon Musk released the second edition of the Twitter files, exposing the breadth of the government’s efforts to censor Americans’ speech online.

In addition, we have learned that despite the federal government’s continued denials of having any role in the creation of the Election Integrity Project (EIP), that DHS and CISA were involved from the beginning. Look at the words of Graham Brookie, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) – one of the four founding EIP partners – who wrote this to his colleagues on July 21, 2020 – “We just set up an election integrity partnership at the request of DHS/CISA and are in weekly comms to debrief about disinfo, IO, etc.”

As an active participant with EIP partners, CISA was “switchboarding,”  which is the term CISA used to describe flagging what they called misinformation and notifying social media platforms who could “independently” decide whether to remove or modify the content. CISA Director Jen Easterly claimed earlier this year during a DHS Appropriations subcommittee hearing that “We don’t flag anything to social media organizations,” but that is exactly what CISA was doing.

Moreover, while EIP and its stakeholders claim the EIP was just conducting research, the words of a senior EIP official during a transcribed interview with our Committee, say otherwise. “Flagging content for social media companies was part and parcel with the EIP’s creation.” There is unfortunately far more evidence than I have time to describe.

After CISA’s hands were caught in the censorship cookie jar, some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have come to the defense of its censorship laundering enterprise. They claim that there were no funding links between CISA and these outside organizations, no censorship. At the same time, they take pains to reaffirm their commitment to fighting “misinformation.”

Just last week, the Ranking Member of the full committee issued a press release denying that CISA created, funded, or directed the work of the Election Integrity Partnership. Now you can believe the press release, or you can believe the individuals in the private sector who were most intimately involved with this work, who talk about how the government gave them the ability to stomp out “misinformation.”

As a reminder, the impact of this censorship effort was massive: 859 million tweets collected for “misinformation” analysis; 22 million tweets and retweets categorized as “misinformation” subject to censorship; 21 Twitter users – Americans – identified and stigmatized as quote “the most prominent repeat spreaders [of disinformation]” every one of whom were on the political right. And it was not just for elections. The same network used the same tools to censor dozens of purportedly false COVID-19 narratives, of which some were later proven true, but all of which were within the sphere of free speech that the Constitution protects from Government interference. Let’s turn to where things might be headed.

We know that DHS and CISA have continued to explore ways to build on their counter-MDM efforts. Some of their publicly acknowledged or directed efforts have been pretty Orwellian, like DHS’ ill-conceived effort to establish a Disinformation Governance Board last year or CISA Director Jen Easterly’s bizarre comments on controlling citizens’ thoughts through regulating “cognitive infrastructure” as critical infrastructure. Other evidence is more bureaucratic but no less alarming.

Look for example at CISA’s Cybersecurity Advisory Committee’s MDM Subcommittee which continues to exist and recommended that CISA should expand efforts into new areas such as the courts, financial systems, and public health. The MDM Subcommittee also recommended CISA view its counter-MDM work across a much wider range of media. Other DHS documents suggest CISA also wants to broaden the target issues of public concern, to include racial justice, immigration, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and support to Ukraine.

What is stopping DHS from overreaching its jurisdiction beyond elections to censor more Americans to “protect” whatever government-deployed orthodox notions it deems “critical infrastructure?”

Right now, the answer is nothing.

While CISA has made a public pretense of pulling from some of its more aggressive censorship efforts, that change was driven by public scrutiny and not, from all that appears, to a fundamental change of heart. This is shameful and dangerous.

Every American – even those serving in the vast federal bureaucracy – should be committed to upholding Americans’ fundamental rights. At this point, it appears the courts may provide part of the solution. Indeed, the Fifth Circuit ruled this October that CISA probably violated the First Amendment through its censorship activities. Ultimately, this will be decided by the Supreme Court. But the issue of DHS and CISA’s censorship efforts goes beyond a ruling on the precise contours of the First Amendment. The government’s power to censor speech, including online speech, must be strictly limited to content that is not constitutionally protected, such as inciting imminent lawless action.

At DHS, censorship became ordinary and banal – an everyday activity carried out by anonymous and unaccountable bureaucrats using censorship by proxy to accomplish indirectly and in secret what it would not have the power to do openly. Congress cannot wait or hope for a court decision to stop DHS and CISA’s overreach.

Congress has a duty to rein in out-of-control agencies and protect the rights of the American people. To that end, this Subcommittee will be drafting legislation that stops DHS and CISA’s censorious MDM efforts and prevent DHS and CISA from working with social media platforms to suppress free speech online. The government cannot simply sidestep the Constitution by outsourcing censorship under the guise of protecting critical infrastructure.

Thank you all for joining, and I look forward to hearing testimony from our witnesses.