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House Committee Subpoenas State Department on Proxy Censorship Claims

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The Chairman of the US House Committee on Small Business Roger Williams last week subpoenaed the State Department and Global Engagement Center (GEC) after they refused to turn over requested documents related to accusations of “censorship-by-proxy.”

We obtained a copy of the subpoena for you here.

GEC was used to flag posts that would then get censored by social media platforms and was also involved in giving grants to fund online blacklisters.

The documents and communications the committee requested but failed to obtain concern the latter activity, specifically an investigation into government bankrolling companies that hindered US small businesses from competing simply because they engaged in lawful online speech.

The material the committee wants for its probe goes back to grants awarded since 2018. The request names almost two dozen entities – the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) and NewsGuard among them.

In a statement, Chairman Williams explained that the investigation has been ongoing for a year, with the focus on how the US government may be using taxpayer money to put roadblocks in the way of the country’s small business development – namely, by hampering them online.

“All Americans deserve a fair shot to compete in the marketplace, and the government should not be tipping the scales against any business for their legal speech on the internet,” Williams is quoted as saying while explaining the need to hit the GEC and the State Department with a subpoena after they repeatedly refused to cooperate.

Williams described this attitude by the government as unacceptable, given that (with the importance of unhindered presence on the internet), “the livelihoods of many small businesses are on the line.”

The Committee’s investigation focuses on how what is described as “censorship-by-proxy” (i.e., the government circumventing constitutional prohibitions to censor online speech by looking for “friendly” non-governmental entities to put pressure on social platforms) – affects US small businesses’ bottom line.

And logically, impeding them from gaining exposure and reach online, especially, but not only, during the pandemic, would have caused serious consequences.

The House Committee said that over the year of the investigation, GEC “slow-rolled document production and ignored legitimate oversight document requests.”

And so, 12 months into it, and after repeated accommodations – such as giving GEC extra time and even narrowing the scope of the requests – the Committee now feels it’s time to “escalate the issue at hand, and issue the subpoena.”

As they say – “nice just doesn’t work with some people.”

If you’re tired of censorship and surveillance, subscribe to Reclaim The Net.

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