The Orwellian Disinformation Governance Board, also called the Biden administration’s “Ministry of Truth,” is just the latest in a list of eight times that government has wielded tech to target Americans invasively.
Among other actions, the U.S. government logged lawmakers’ tweets about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) spied on citizens’ social media posts and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued court orders to tech companies for detailed private data, according to reports. But the new vaguely defined Disinformation Governance Board (DGB) is yet another escalation in the online free speech battle. It has become disturbingly common in recent years for the government to target Americans’ online data and free speech rights — something it shouldn’t be in the business of doing at all.
Here are eight examples of the government’s overreach in collecting data and/or attempting to control speech.
- The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) recently announced DGB has been nicknamed the “Ministry of Truth” for the threat it poses to free speech. One of the concerns about the board is the severe lack of clarity surrounding its goals, authority, members, funding sources and more. The board has since paused but not yet disbanded.
- Investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson obtained CDC emails through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and posted them online. The documents reportedly revealed that the CDC tracked many lawmakers’ tweets about the agency and vaccinations. The CDC broke them down by party affiliation, and labeled them with names, dates and links.
- The government is sometimes transparent about certain aspects of its data tracking. Thousands of U.S. government websites shared and continue to share real-time sensitive data with Google available for public viewing, according to the government website analytics.usa.gov. Agencies that share data with Google include the National Institutes of Health, USPS, FBI, Internal Revenue Service , CDC and Food and Drug Administration. The data comes from sites where Americans upload detailed, sensitive data, including the IRS website, according to Reclaim The Net.
- USPS admitted to spying on Americans’ social media posts in April 2021, according to the New York Post. The agency’s so-called “Internet Covert Operations Program” (iCOP) tracked supposedly “inflammatory” posts on Parler, Facebook and other platforms, USPS Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale confirmed to the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
- USPS also recently called for a digital ID database, which would include an expansion of the USPS Informed Delivery service, according to Reclaim The Net. USPS would also reportedly provide online name and address verification to government agencies, and add a “confidence level” that a person lives at a specific address. These actions could increase the government’s intrusion into American citizens’ daily lives.
- In November 2021, Apple was discovered to be partnering with multiple states to create digital IDs for cell phones. States paid Apple to implement the program, in which the company retained authority over details like launch dates of states’ digital ID programs and device types that would be compatible with the digital IDs. Per the program, states encourage “key stakeholders in federal and state government,” such as law enforcement, to adopt digital IDs. The digital IDs would replace physical government-issued IDs for people who opt in to the digital program.
- Apple and Google partnered in April 2020 to use Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies with contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the contact tracing involved notifying individuals when someone they knew tested positive for COVID-19, seemingly allowing the Big Tech companies, and potentially governments, access to personal medical information. The contact tracing supposedly helped “governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design,” according to an Apple announcement.
- Recently released documentation alleges the FBI spied on undercover journalism outlet Project Veritas, including through secret orders to Apple, Google and Microsoft, according to a report from Reclaim The Net. Court-issued secret orders were reportedly directed at tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft for professional and private Project Veritas accounts. FBI search warrants targeted private accounts of Project Veritas employees, according to the report.
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