November 28, 2022

Markets & Free EnterprisePolicy

Instead of Colluding with Big Tech to Censor Americans, CISA Should Focus on Protecting Them

By: Caleb Larson

Cybersecurity may be the first word in the name of the nation’s premier agency for defending against cyber threats, but perhaps the C in CISA should be changed to censorship. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is in hot water due to a bombshell report revealing the intimate relationship between CISA and Big Tech focused on curbing the speech of Americans. Not only is this a clear violation of the First Amendment, but it is also an abdication of duty for an organization that should be defending our technology infrastructure, not policing it. CISA’s efforts to export assaults on free speech to its partners in Big Tech must immediately be investigated and stopped in order to refocus the agency on its original mission of defending America’s cyber and physical infrastructure.

Stopping hackers looking to harm America is no small goal. Countless attacks are constantly being waged in cyberspace against government agencies, citizens, and businesses. Why is it then that CISA is focused on policing “misinformation” related to the origins of COVID-19, “racial justice,” and the Afghanistan withdrawal? The mission creep seems to have started with the establishment of the Countering Foreign Influence Task Force by DHS’s secretary at the time, Kirstjen Nielsen. This group included members of CISA and focused on generating intelligence on voting related disinformation spread on social media. 

Under the Biden administration, this group was replaced by the Misinformation, Disinformation, and Malinformation team which would focus on not only foreign generated information, but domestic as well. This drastic expansion was justified by CISA director, Jen Easterly, who said that the agency needed to defend “cognitive infrastructure.” The gigantic size of this jump from the original mission of “[leading] the National effort to understand, manage, and reduce risk to our cyber and physical infrastructure” to tracking and effectively taking down the social media posts of Americans is difficult to overstate.

To maintain their plausible deniability, CISA claims that they were not the ones taking down posts, rather they are simply notifying their Big Tech allies who would then “independently decide whether to remove or modify the post.” This defense would be laughable if it weren’t so heinous. Big Tech is staffed with an ideologically aligned workforce who agree with virtually everything coming out of these agencies in the Biden administration. 

Also, if Big Brother came knocking on your door with a not-so-subtle suggestion to remove content from your site that is supposedly imperiling national security, what are you going to do? Big Tech should have very limited powers when it comes to policing speech on their platforms, regardless of whether the federal government is breathing down their necks.

Unfortunately, CISA seems to be dedicated to its new mandate from the Biden administration. The Cybersecurity Advisory Committee is a CISA subcommittee that controls the agency’s disinformation policy. This committee asked Jen Easterly to direct CISA to control the “information ecosystem” through monitoring of “social media platforms of all sizes, mainstream media, cable news, hyper partisan media, talk radio and other online resources.” Clearly, CISA and its mission have gone off the rails. If any other country were conducting such blatant acts of indirect censorship, the United States would condemn it.

Cyber threats are a significant danger to America’s interests, and they are only going to grow. Take it from CISA, which says that there will be an increase in “sophisticated, high-impact ransomware incidents against critical infrastructure organizations globally.” Research by Trend Micro shows that in a 12-month span, 89% of the energy industry, already struggling with threats of taxation from the Biden administration, has faced a cyber-attack that has impacted their production and supply. With such a dangerous ecosystem, why is CISA focusing its efforts on surveilling American citizens with Big Tech in a clear violation of their constitutional rights?

The scale and complexity of this malicious activity by CISA must be fully investigated and understood if it is to be stopped. The agency is too important to let it devolve into another censorship apparatus for aspiring authoritarians. Not only does CISA offer helpful services, tools, and tips for American citizens and businesses, they also produce actionable intelligence on foreign threat actors looking to do harm to America’s infrastructure and help coordinate the necessary whole of government response required to combat cyber threats. 

If Big Tech is going to be reined in, Americans must first put a stop to the pressure they face from the government to surveil and censor.

Caleb Larson is a cybersecurity researcher, policy analyst with the Internet Accountability Project, and a Heritage Foundation alum.