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Court Limits Cyber Security Agency’s Access to Social Media Platforms

by | Fri, Oct 6 2023

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An American court has restricted communication between the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)  and social media platforms. The Court of Appeals ruled that such intervention violated the First Amendment rights to free speech in the US Constitution. The Christian Post reports it found the agency pressured platforms to adopt more restrictive policies on censoring election-related speech.

“CISA also engaged in ‘switch-boarding’ operations, meaning, at least in theory, that CISA officials acted as an intermediary for third parties by forwarding flagged content from them to the platforms. Like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for COVID-related claims, CISA told the platforms whether certain election-related claims were true or false. CISA’s actions led to moderation policies being altered and content being removed or demoted by the recipient platforms,” the court opinion said.

The panel concluded that, as with the CDC and the FBI,CISA also likely violated the First Amendment. CISA used its frequent interactions with social media platforms to push them to adopt more restrictive policies on censoring election-related speech. The platforms’ censorship decisions were made under policies that CISA has pressured them into adopting and based on CISA’s determination of the veracity of the flagged information. Thus, CISA likely significantly encouraged the platforms’ content-moderation decisions and thereby violated the First Amendment.”

The New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) which joined the lawsuit to represent multiple social media users who say they have been censored, celebrated the decision. “NCLA is pleased the court has recognised that it erred in letting CISA — one of the worst violators of Americans’ First Amendment rights — off the hook, and we’re glad that CISA is now included in the injunction prohibiting censorship,” said NCLA Litigation Counsel Jenin Younes. “We look forward to vindicating our clients’ rights in the US Supreme Court, which we are confident will also recognise the egregious and intolerable nature of the government’s conduct.”

CISA denied censoring free speech despite multiple accusations the US government worked with major social media outlets to censor conservative opinions and news. They included claims over the cause and management of the pandemic and events focused on the US President’s son, Hunter Biden.

In May 2022, Missouri and Louisiana sued the Biden administration, arguing that the federal government “threatened and cajoled social-media platforms for years to censor viewpoints and speakers disfavoured by the Left. As a direct result of these actions, there has been an unprecedented rise of censorship and suppression of free speech including core political speech, on social-media platforms. Not just fringe views, but perfectly legitimate, responsible viewpoints and speakers have been unlawfully and unconstitutionally silenced in the modern public square. These actions gravely threaten the fundamental right of free speech and free discourse for virtually all citizens in Missouri, Louisiana, and America, both on social media and elsewhere,” the lawsuit read.