The House Judiciary Committee has sent subpoenas to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Global Engagement Center for documents as it continues to investigate whether the federal government pressured social media companies to censor certain viewpoints.
The subpoenas mark an escalation in the panel’s inquiry, as House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan described the agencies responses to previous voluntary request in March as “inadequate” in the subpoena cover letter and said that none of the agencies have produced any documents responding to previous requests to date.
Jordan, a Republican, has long claimed that the federal government and big tech companies have been “weaponized” against conservatives, and leads a subcommittee on that topic.
The subpoena letters do not list any specific allegations the committee is investigating but raises the concern over censorship more broadly. The subpoenas set a document deadline of May 22 for a broad request of information and communications.
Through the subpoenas to the CDC, CISA (which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security) and the Global Engagement Center, under the Department of State’s purview, the Judiciary panel claims to be seeking information about the extent to which the Executive Branch “pressured and colluded” with social media and other tech companies and others to “censor certain viewpoints on social and other media in ways that undermine First Amendment principles.”
Conservative critics have said that correspondence released by Twitter owner and CEO Elon Musk late last year demonstrates a willingness by social media publishers to act on requests by government officials to suppress certain points of view. Federal officials, however, have rejected this accusation.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told CNN on Friday, “HHS does not censor speech and as part of its mission to protect public health, HHS and CDC remain committed to sharing data and science so Americans can make informed decisions about their health.”
The spokesperson further stated, “We have received the subpoena for documents from the House Judiciary Committee. Consistent with longstanding practice and the constitutionally required accommodation process, HHS complies with legitimate oversight requests, balancing Congress’ oversight interest with HHS’s institutional interests as part of a co-equal branch of government. In this case, HHS promptly responded to Chairman Jordan’s March 22, 2023, letter by the requested deadline and informed the Chairman that HHS intends to cooperate with his inquiry. Since then, HHS did not hear from Chairman Jordan or his staff until they informed the Department that the Chairman intended to issue a subpoena.”
“The Department of Homeland Security does not censor speech and does not request that content be taken down by social media companies,” a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told CNN. “Instead of working with the Department, as numerous committees have done this Congress, the House Judiciary Committee has unnecessarily escalated to a subpoena. DHS will continue cooperating appropriately with Congressional oversight requests, all while faithfully working to protect our nation from terrorism and targeted violence, secure our borders, respond to natural disasters, defend against cyberattacks, and more.”
The Judiciary panel “made no effort to work with DHS through traditional channels” a source familiar with the backchanneling between the committee and DHS said.
Outlining the scope of the agency, the source added that CISA provides guidance on foreign influence operations, disinformation tactics and issues of election security and shares that information with state and local election officials. In the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, CISA shared potential election security related disinformation identified by local authorities with social media companies, but did not do so in the 2022 election cycle. The source emphasized, “platforms make their own decisions according to their policies and terms of service.”
Jordan claims that the subpoenas will help his panel determine if legislation is needed to create “new statutory limits on the Executive Branch’s ability to work with social media platforms and other companies to restrict the circulation of content and deplatform users.”
This story has been updated with additional information.