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Why Is DHS Keeping ‘Disinformation’ Regulation Docs Secret?

May 10, 2024

Nearly two years after Nina Jankowicz briefly led the Disinformation Governance Board at the Department of Homeland Security, she’s launched an organization demanding transparency and the public release of documents about the public debate on disinformation. An interesting move, likely without true transparency in mind.

My organization, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, has spent the same two years fighting DHS for documents on the federal board Jankowicz managed. We’re filing a second lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to fight continued government stonewalling of our requests. Thus far, DHS has refused to provide unredacted versions of documents that outline its purported authorities to regulate disinformation. Nor will the agency release more information about its work on misinformation related to “irregular migration” and “Ukraine” before the board was disbanded in August 2022.

So, taxpayers are unable to find out what legal authority DHS is exercising, and they aren’t allowed to learn about the work being done with their tax dollars. Does this sound like a dystopian novel yet?

Why do the documents from a defunct government board matter? Because DHS and Jankowicz sold the board as necessary. They claimed to be worried that DHS’ various offices’ ongoing disinformation work threatened Americans’ free speech rights.

Jankowicz tweeted in April 2022, “one of the key reasons the Board was established, is to maintain the Dept's committment to protecting free speech, privacy, civil rights, & civil liberties.”

DHS told reporters in April 2022, “[I]ronically, this Board is designed to protect the freedom of speech that critics are falsely claiming it is attempting to trample.” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also said, “[I]t was quite disconcerting, frankly, that the disinformation work that was well underway for many years across different independent administrations was not guided by guardrails.”

In May 2022, Mayorkas told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the board was necessary to make sure ongoing disinformation work in DHS “does not infringe on people’s free speech rights” and that the board would be developing “guidelines” and “guardrails.” That same month, the board was paused and then ultimately disbanded in August 2022.

Disconcerting, indeed. If DHS and Jankowicz were telling the truth about the board’s necessity, then DHS offices across the country continue to do disinformation work without any guardrails to protect free speech.

So the disinformation work is ongoing, but the work to provide “guardrails” has stopped. We want to know what guidance that work currently operates under, but DHS refuses to provide the information. What are they trying to hide?

We aren’t the only ones denied basic transparency about what DHS is doing with your tax dollars. Members of Congress have repeatedly asked for documents and direct answers to straightforward questions about agency authority.

In a House Homeland Security Committee hearing last month, Rep. Mike Ezell (R-MS) asked Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, “What congressional authority does DHS have in the [misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information] space?” Mayorkas dodged the question. Rep. Ezell received a similar non-answer from a DHS assistant secretary in a December hearing.

A DHS Fact Sheet defending the creation of the Disinfo Board from May 2, 2022, said, “the Department has renewed its commitment to transparency and openness with the public and Congress.”

Much like the name “Disinformation Governance Board,” these claims of commitment to transparency are Orwellian doublespeak. Last month, Jankowicz and Álvarez-Aranyos sent a letter to Congress demanding they release their work on disinformation, while, at the same time, Jankowicz’s former colleagues at DHS refuse to do so, despite being legally obligated to, unlike Congress.

Jankowicz and her former government employer have an interest in making sure the records showing what they did with the Disinfo Board never see the light of day. DHS will continue stonewalling unless a federal court orders them to follow the law, and we won’t stop until they provide transparency about its authorities and actions that threaten free speech.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

Kevin Schmidt is director of investigations at Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

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