The State Department is facing a lawsuit for funding a “censorship regime” built by technologies that blacklist conservative media outlets.
In a suit filed by the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), the State Department is accused of “funding and promotion of censorship technologies and private censorship enterprises that blacklist” conservative news sites The Federalist and The Daily Wire, which negatively impacts the platforms’ “ability to circulate and distribute their publications to both current and potential audiences.”
The lawsuit claims that the State Department technologies are “intentionally destroying” the conservative sites’ ability to obtain advertisers.
“Defendants have been granted no statutory authority to fund or promote censorship technology or censorship enterprises that target the American press, tarring disfavored domestic news organizations as purveyors of ‘disinformation,’” the lawsuit says.
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“There is no enumerated general power to censor speech or the press found in the United States Constitution, and the First Amendment expressly forbids it, providing: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech or of the press,” it continues.
“The State Department’s use of tax dollars to fund the silencing of a segment of the American press is appalling—and terrifying. A free and open press is foundational to our constitutional Republic, which is precisely why the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the First Amendment,” Margot Cleveland, counsel at NCLA, said in a statement.
According to the lawsuit, the State Department uses its Global Engagement Center (GEC) to finance the development and promotion of censorship technology and enterprises, including NewsGuard and the Global Disinformation Index.
“These entities generate blacklists of ostensibly risky or unreliable American news outlets for the purpose of discrediting and demonetizing the disfavored press and redirecting money and audiences to news organizations that publish favored viewpoints,” the lawsuit states.
Mark Chenoweth, president and general counsel at NCLA said, “The federal government cannot do indirectly what the First Amendment forbids it from doing directly. The chilling censorship machinations alleged in this complaint will frighten all liberty-loving Americans to the core.”
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The GEC’s stated mission is to “direct, lead, synchronize, integrate, and coordinate U.S. Federal Government efforts to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining or influencing the policies, security, or stability of the United States, its allies, and partner nations.”
The lawsuit notes that while Congress dramatically expanded the breadth of GEC’s mission, its purpose remained limited to combating “foreign” disinformation.
“Congress explicitly included a limitation in the spending bills that provided: ‘None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available to carry out this section shall be used for purposes other than countering foreign propaganda and misinformation that threatens United States national security.’”
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“While Congress forbade GEC from using funds appropriated or otherwise made available to it to counter Americans’ speech… many of GEC’s activities and initiatives targeted speech spoken in America among Americans, including Media Plaintiffs’ speech and press rights,” the lawsuit says.
“George Orwell, call your office: The Disinformation Governance Board is back!” said Peggy Little, senior litigation counsel at NCLA, referring to a now-shuttered controversial office within the Department of Homeland Security.
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“Worse, it was here all along quietly operating out of the State Department through three presidential administrations with the admitted intent of cutting off advertising dollars and viewership from conservative media outlets,” she added.
The State Department did not return comment by time of publication.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.