House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) sent a letter on Monday to Google parent company Alphabet after the firm failed to comply with a subpoena related to federal government officials working with technology firms to censor content.
Lawmakers asked executives at Alphabet, as well as Amazon, Apple, Meta, and Microsoft, for documents related to their alleged suppression of free speech. Jordan said that Alphabet insufficiently complied with the subpoena, which was issued on February 15 and required a return date of March 23, and redacted information in an improper manner.
“Despite explicit instructions enclosed with the subpoena to produce unredacted documents, Alphabet has frustrated the committee’s review of the responsive material by unilaterally redacting key information necessary to understand the context and content of the material,” Jordan said in the letter to Daniel Donovan, an attorney who represents Alphabet. “These redactions do not appear to be based on any applicable privilege, because Alphabet has asserted none, and the committee requires this material to be produced without redactions.”
Jordan said that Alphabet provided 4,049 pages of documents related to censorship efforts, a volume of materials that is not “appreciable” relative to the expected quantity of documents, and insisted that the materials be examined in a reading room, a requirement that “prevents and frustrates the committee’s understanding and use of those documents and fails to comply with the terms of the subpoena without the committee’s consent.”
The subpoena was largely focused on obtaining communications between executives at rival social media companies regarding the coordinated censorship of particular viewpoints. YouTube, the video-sharing platform controlled by Alphabet, most recently censored footage from Project Veritas in which an executive from Pfizer said that the company uses “directed evolution” to mutate coronaviruses and create more potent variants and vaccines.
Technology companies have drawn particular backlash in recent years for censoring information critical of the federal response to the pandemic and the efficacy of lockdown mandates.
Lawmakers can hold individuals in contempt of Congress for intentionally interfering with a committee’s investigation, a move which would require a committee vote and a simple majority in the relevant chamber. Republicans currently have majorities on the House Judiciary Committee and the House of Representatives.
Jordan added that the committee might be “forced to consider the use of one or more enforcement mechanisms” should Alphabet fail to submit relevant documents on May 22.
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The investigation into the suppression of free speech by technology and social media companies occurs after several installments of the Twitter Files, a set of internal documents Twitter owner Elon Musk provided to investigative journalists, indicated that executives worked with federal officials to censor certain claims, as well as used shadow bans and suspensions against conservative and moderate users.
One edition of the Twitter Files showed that the FBI contacted Twitter about the censorship of so many posts that employees congratulated each other in internal company communications for the “monumental undertaking” of reviewing them. Another release showed that the FBI paid Twitter more than $3.4 million for their “legal process response,” apparently referencing the time executives spent coordinating with the agency.