The Biden administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has reportedly intervened to delay the release of certain public documents pertaining to the censorship of political content on social media.
This development, brought to light via recently obtained emails reported by independent journalist Lee Fang, may reveal further information about the federal government’s campaign against misinformation.
Senior officials from the DOJ are alleged to have played a part in this hold-up, which is said to highlight the expansive powers of the federal government in shaping political discourse and the various tactics employed to limit inquiries into their role in regulating free speech.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Annalisa Cravens from the Western District of Washington informed Kate Starbird, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington, of the impending public records request.
“We’ve heard from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) within the Department of Homeland Security that the Daily Caller News Foundation has requested documents from the university, which may include documents that belong to CISA,” she wrote.
Starbird operates a disinformation think tank funded by the government at the University.
She also sits on the CISA advisory panel which is responsible for influencing content moderation decisions on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
There was growing scrutiny from journalists and watchdog groups regarding the censorship efforts of DHS-CISA, at the time the email was sent.
Multiple public records requests related to Starbird’s association with CISA and its censorship efforts were filed last fall by various entities including myself, journalists from the Daily Caller and Tech Inquiry, and the Government Accountability Project, a pro-transparency nonprofit.
Consequently, the DOJ asked for a delay to examine the records due to be released to the public and evaluate if legal action was necessary to prevent the disclosure of some or all of these documents.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cravens further added, “[W]e would also ask to have an extension of time before the records are produced so that we can have time to review them and assess whether we’ll have to file suit to protect them from disclosure.”
The exact impact of this intervention by the Biden administration on the requested public records remains uncertain, with queries on the matter unanswered by the DHS and DOJ.
Notably, several delays were experienced in the delivery of the documents requested last year from the University of Washington.
Although the federal government possesses what’s known as the “state secrets privilege,” allowing the DOJ to block the release of potentially security-compromising information, there are increasing concerns that this privilege is being exploited to escape public scrutiny.
Numerous administrations have reportedly employed similar legal strategies in the past to obstruct transparency.
Starbird herself has dismissed journalistic curiosity about her work, characterizing it as harassment, particularly from right-wing media.
“In particular, the 5 FOIA (public records) requests that my colleagues and I have received—some so broad that they’d require 100s of hours of work to assemble—essentially look like a denial of service attack, attempting to make it untenable to continue our research,” she tweeted.
In response to these records requests, she even went on to equate them to a cyber attack.
Her claims drew attention to the potential harassment faced by women in public roles, while simultaneously underscoring the escalating tensions around issues of public transparency and freedom of speech.