DHS still won’t reveal its alleged authorities to censor ‘misinformation’

Free-speech-and-censorship-768x402-1

Last week, two officials from the Department of Homeland Security lied, misled, and refused to answer questions about the agency’s alleged authority to censor “misinformation” in a hearing before the Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Accountability.  

Rep. Mike Ezell questioned DHS Assistant Secretary Iranga Kahangama on federal memos obtained by Americans for Prosperity Foundation that argued the agency has existing regulatory or statutory authority in “the MDM space” — short for “misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.”  

Kahangama’s word-salad answer to Rep. Ezell referenced no specific legal authority:  

DHS believes its authorities that authorize its specific mission use cases provides us the authority to provide correct accurate information in response false information that may directly impact the operations of the Department.

Written testimony from Kahangama and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Mona Harrington also leans on this troubling framing of DHS authorities: 

Countering disinformation that threatens the homeland and providing the public with accurate information in response are critical to fulfilling DHS’s congressionally-mandated missions. 

This is wrong and worrying on several levels.  

First, there is no congressionally mandated mission for DHS to police and remove “misinformation” online, nor could there be because Americans have First Amendment protection for the vast majority of online speech.  

Second, DHS is arguing that it can use any strategies or tools to accomplish broadly worded statutory missions even without explicit legislative authorization.  

If this is the only “authority” DHS is relying on, the authorizing statute for DHS should be amended to make clear DHS does not have authority to police the online speech of Americans. Subcommittee Chairman Dan Bishop raised the prospect of restricting CISA’s authority to make sure that it does not try to police online speech.  

Harrington responded it was already in law under the First Amendment and claimed that “CISA doesn’t censor,” but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Missouri v. Biden disagreed and found CISA “likely significantly encouraged the [social media] platforms’ content-moderation decisions and thereby violated the First Amendment.”  The Supreme Court will hear and decide the case this term. 

In a follow-up question from Rep. Ezell on a memo titled “Ukraine MDM Playbook,” Kahangama claimed he had not seen the memo in question, but also maintained, despite all of the public evidence to the contrary and his prior statement, that “[DHS] do[es] not monitor the content of Americans’ speech.” 

This is a direct contradiction to the alleged authorities Kahangama claimed earlier in the hearing to do just that. A staff report on the from the House Judiciary Committee and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government also found that CISA “expanded its mission to surveil and censor Americans’ speech on social media.” 

Despite public and congressional demands for accountability, DHS has withheld the content of the memos and refused to answer questions about them for more than a year, as FOX News has highlighted. AFPF will continue to push for more transparency from DHS and to uncover the truth about its censorship regime.

Links to DHS Memos on MDM Authorities Obtained by Americans for Prosperity Foundation 

  • DHS-001-02015-001268“DHS AUTHORITIES IN THE MDM SPACE”  
  • DHS-001 -02015-000608: “Summary of U.S Department of Homeland Security (OHS) Authorities Concerning Mis-, Dis-, and Mal-Information {MDM)” 
  • DHS-001-02015-000780:“Background Information: DHS PLCY’s Roles and Responsibilities in the Department’s Information Manipulation Mission”