Judges last week Terry Doughty ordered the removal of a number of senior federal officials, something judges are usually reluctant to do. These include some cyber officials: Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Jen Osterly; a member of a CISA team fighting Influence Operations; a State Department official doing the same; and a senior deputy special agent for the FBI San Francisco, recognized as an expert in cyber and election security.
Conservatives have long been frustrated by a perceived bias by social media companies in deciding what types of commentary to allow on their platforms, citing examples like the New York Post’s Twitter ban after it announced a few weeks before the Elections 2020 had published a story about alleged contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop (the then-CEO of Twitter has since said the newspaper’s ban was a mistake).
But in that lawsuit, First Amendment experts say the evidence that government officials colluded with social media organizations to censor information is thin or non-existent and that the escrow decision worries them.
Attorney General of Missouri Eric Schmitt (R) and its Louisiana counterpart Jeff Landry (R) filed her lawsuit in May. Schmitt is running for Senate this year and Landry plans to run for governor next year.
The thrust of her lawsuit is that people within the Biden administration (some of whom served under Trump, including Anton Fauci) is alleged to have worked with social media companies to violate the First Amendment rights of some prominent conservative activists as well as ordinary citizens in the name of combating disinformation and misinformation on issues such as the coronavirus pandemic and election integrity.
- “The potential burden” on each of the senior officials whom the court ordered removed “is outweighed by the need to determine whether the right to freedom of expression has been suppressed under the First Amendment,” wrote the US District Court judge for the West District of Louisiana Terry Doughty.
Besides Easterly, other cyber officials who could be removed under the lawsuit are:
- Lauren Protentis with the mis, dis and malinformation team at CISA. However, Doughty said plaintiffs would have to choose Easterly or Protentis for impeachment, but not both. Younes said they chose Easter.
- Elvis Chan with the FBI office in San Francisco.
- Daniel Kimmage, the Acting Coordinator of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.
In Easterly’s case, the alleged evidence includes a text exchange about a since-defunct disinformation governance board with a former CISA official. “The talks ultimately describe how Easterly is seeking increased censorship and that this would be done through federal pressure on social media platforms to increase censorship,” Doughty summarized the plaintiffs’ claims.
According to a text message submitted by Easterly as a discovery, their comments were about “getting us to a place where the Fed can work with platforms to better understand mis/dis trends so relevant agencies can try to understand them.” to expose/expose as useful. ” The plaintiffs consider this to be censorship.
The plaintiffs hailed Doughty’s decision, who was nominated by Trump, as a victory that demonstrated the importance of their case. “I am very happy with it”, Jenin Younes, litigator at the nonprofit New Civil Liberties Alliance, which joined the case, told me. “Senior federal officials are usually protected from having to testify. But exceptions are made for circumstances like this where no one else would have the information.”
Some outside counsel working on First Amendment cases were less enthusiastic.
- George FreemanExecutive director of the Media Law Resource Center, called the lawsuit “outlandish” and said it “doesn’t even make sense” in situations like that of the then-White House press secretary. Jens Psaki open said things like, “Facebook needs to act faster to remove harmful, hurtful posts.”
- “When the press secretary says she’s opposed to information, that really seems like hardly enough of anything, let alone a threat, to take any action against the First Amendment,” Freeman said.
- “The fact that this is moving forward and they have received such a broad order to remove such senior officials is a little surprising.” Evelyn Duek, a Stanford law professor, told me. “The reaction when the lawsuit was first filed was very strong that this was just a political tribune on social media platforms.”
Younes said if the defendants want to challenge the dismissal verdict, it will happen “relatively soon.” Under federal regulations, statements could take up to seven hours, she said.
The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment on its plans. A spokesman for CISA, Michael Feldmansaid the agency would not comment on litigation.
Mark S Zaida DC attorney who frequently litigates the US government told me via email that he would not be surprised if the DOJ appealed the verdict since it authorized the deposition of a long list of officials.
Whether the testimonies could materially help the plaintiffs build their case is another question.
“Even with the sworn statements, the burden they have to prove their case here is extraordinarily high,” and “there’s nothing on record to suggest they have a chance,” Douek said. “So the idea that this is going to be a big ‘gotcha’ moment is very unlikely.”
For now, plaintiffs are encouraged.
“It is high time that we shine a light on this censorship enterprise and compel these officials to speak plainly to the American people, and this ruling will allow us to do just that,” Schmitt said. “We will continue to push for the truth.”
Chinese spies are accused of trying to obstruct Huawei’s investigation
The Justice Department said two men working on behalf of Beijing bribed a US law enforcement official to share secrets about the prosecution of a major Chinese company that people familiar with the matter said was Huawei. Devlin Barrett, Perry Stone and Ellen Nakashima Report. But the officer was actually a double agent working for the US government, collecting evidence against the suspects and feeding them fake documents and information.
“The US Department of Justice indicted Huawei Technologies in 2019, accusing the world’s largest communications equipment maker and some of its executives of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and conspiring to obstruct justice in connection with the investigation — resulting in angry condemnations from both the company and the country. ‘ write Devlin, Perry and Ellen. “The new charges suggest that the Chinese government went to great lengths to thwart the US case against the company by hiring suspected Chinese intelligence officers to gather information on witnesses and evidence. Huawei has long insisted on operating independently from the Chinese government.”
A Huawei representative did not respond to a request for comment.
FTC sues Drizly executives for privacy abuse
The Federal Trade Commission proposed order will follow Drizly CEO Cory Rellas on his future businesses, forcing him to implement security programs in all companies he runs that collect data from at least 25,000 people, reports Cat Zakrzewski. The punishment came after alleged security flaws under Rellas’ supervision that exposed the personal information of around 2.5 million customers.
It also comes after Democrats pushed for tougher penalties for individual executives involved in major data breaches. “There are only a handful of examples of the FTC pursuing such individual liability in prior cases using online data,” writes Cat. “In 2019, the agency reached a settlement with operator of an online rewards site, ClixSense, which will follow [the executive] to future companies. That same year, the agency also named executives in an order it took against a dress-up games website that allegedly violated a law protecting children under 13 online.”
As part of the order, Rellas and Drizly, which are owned by Uber, must also shred unnecessary data, implement new data controls and train their employees in cybersecurity. The FTC will decide whether to finalize the order after receiving 30 days of public comment.
Biden admin warns of threats to country’s election infrastructure (Politico)
Medibank reveals hack affected more customers than first thought (The Guardian)
When would a cyber attack trigger a NATO response? It’s a mystery (The Hill)
Apple fixes new zero-day attack on iPhones and iPads (Bleeping Computer)
UK company Interserve fined £4.4million over ransomware attack (The Record)
Cyber unicorn Snyk lays off 198 employees, 14 percent of workforce (CTech)
- CISA Chief of Staff Kiersten Todt speaking at a Virginia Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine event today.
- The Small Business Administration is hosting its Cyber Summit on Wednesday.
- representative Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.), Col. Jennifer Krolikowskithe Chief Information Officer of the US Space Systems Command, and other speakers will attend the 2022 BlackBerry Security Summit on Wednesday.
- The Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board meets on Wednesday and Thursday.
- The R Street Institute is hosting a school cybersecurity event on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m
- The Aspen Institute is hosting an event on Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. on Election Security, Audits, Influencing, and Other Things to Know Before the Midterm Elections.
- The Atlantic Council is hosting an event on supply chain cybersecurity on Wednesday at 10am
- National Cyber Director Chris Inglis and Anne NeubergDeputy National Security Advisor, will address an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies at 10 a.m. Thursday
- Rob Silverthe undersecretary for policy at DHS, will discuss cybersecurity initiatives at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies Friday at 11 a.m
Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.