The internet in the United States remains vibrant, diverse, and largely free from government censorship, and the country’s legal framework provides some of the world’s strongest protections for free expression online. Increased federal investment in internet affordability programs has brought service to more people in recent years. A proliferation of electoral content that was false, misleading, or conspiracist created an unreliable online information environment and harmed public confidence ahead of the November 2022 midterm elections. The country still lacks a comprehensive federal privacy law, and Congress has failed to adequately reform disproportionate surveillance practices. State governments are increasingly pursuing legislation related to social media and data privacy; some laws passed during the coverage period effectively undermined access to information and free expression in the relevant states.
The United States is a federal republic whose people benefit from a competitive political system, a strong rule-of-law tradition, robust freedoms of expression and religious belief, and a wide array of other civil liberties. However, in recent years its democratic institutions have suffered erosion, as reflected in rising political polarization and extremism, partisan pressure on the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, harmful policies on immigration and asylum seekers, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence.
- Some federal and state lawmakers considered restrictions on the short-video platform TikTok, which is owned by the China-based company ByteDance, due to concerns about potential threats to national security and the risk that the Chinese government could access Americans’ personal data. In May 2023, the state of Montana passed a law compelling online app stores to restrict access to TikTok within its territory; the measure was set to go in effect in 2024 and has been challenged in several lawsuits (see B2 and B3).
- Also in May 2023, the Supreme Court rejected a claim seeking to hold internet platforms liable for terrorist content in Twitter v. Taamneh, and it declined to address questions about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in Gonzalez v. Google LLC (see B3).
- Lawmakers in several states passed legislation requiring companies to limit young people’s access to social media, pornography, or other content labelled as harmful, including through the use of age-verification systems, which raised concerns about anonymity. Separately, the Supreme Court considered whether to accept a petition regarding state-level laws in Florida and Texas that would limit social media companies’ ability to moderate content according to their terms of service and platform policies (see B3 and C4).
- Ahead of and during the November 2022 midterm elections, the online environment was riddled with false information and conspiracy theories about ballot collection and tallying, as well as egregious harassment aimed at election workers and officials (see B5, B7, and C7).
- In March 2023, an executive order signed by President Joseph Biden barred federal agencies from the “operational” use of commercial spyware products that pose a threat to national security or counterintelligence, or that could be employed by foreign governments to violate human rights or target people from the United States (see C5).
- A government privacy watchdog disclosed during the coverage period that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had improperly searched Americans’ communications collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), including those of an unnamed US senator and a state senator, people who joined 2020 racial justice protests, and donors to an unidentified congressional campaign (see C5).
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||6.006 6.006|
The United States has the third-largest number of internet users in the world,1 but penetration rates and broadband connection speeds are lower than in other economically developed countries.2 The International Telecommunication Union reported a penetration rate of 91.8 percent in 2021.3 The speed-testing company Ookla reported a median US fixed-line broadband download speed of 198.17 Mbps (megabits per second) as of February 2023, ranking the country ninth worldwide.4 The median mobile download speed was 82.27 Mbps, making it the 19th fastest in the world.
Infrastructural problems and severe weather have sometimes undermined internet access for US residents (see A2).5 For example, Hurricane Ian hit Florida in September 2022, causing half a million Americans to lose telecommunications services because of infrastructure damage.6 Outages for several thousand people extended into November of that year.7
Various federal programs have modernized the nation’s telecommunications networks.8 Implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) began in June 2022.9 The 2021 law appropriated $65 billion to broadband expansion efforts and established the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program to increase high-speed internet deployment to unserved and underserved communities.10
- 1Joseph Johnson, “Countries with the highest number of internet users 2023,” February 23, 2023, https://www.statista.com/statistics/262966/number-of-internet-users-in-… .
- 2OECD, “OECD broadband statistics update,” February 23, 2023,https://www.oecd.org/digital/broadband/broadband-statistics-update.htm.
- 3International Telecommunication Union, “Individuals Using the Internet, 2000-2020,” 2020, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/statistics/2021/Decem….
- 4Ookla, “Speedtest Global Index,” accessed on April 14, 2023, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index#fixed
- 5Federal Communications Commission, Fourteenth Broadband Deployment Report, released January 19, 2021, https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/FCC-21-18A1.pdf
- 6Kevin Collier, “Internet access down across Florida areas hit by Hurricane Ian” NBC News, September 29, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet/internet-access-florida-areas-hit….
- 7Luis Zambrano, “CenturyLink, Comcast internet in SWFL expected to be mostly restored in time for the holidays,” Fort Myers News-Press, November 2, 2022, https://www.news-press.com/story/news/local/2022/11/02/southwest-florid….
- 8House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America, June 2020, https://climatecrisis.house.gov/sites/climatecrisis.house.gov/files/Cli….
- 9Pew Charitable Trusts, “What States Need to Know About Federal BEAD Funding for High-Speed Internet Expansion” Pewtrusts.org, January 9, 2023. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2023/01…
- 10Matt Furlow, “The Infrastructure Bill Has $65 Billion for Broadband Deplopyment. Now What?” US Chamber of Commerce, April 14, 2022. https://www.uschamber.com/infrastructure/the-infrastructure-bill-has-65…
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||2.002 3.003|
Older members of the population, those with disabilities or less education, households with lower socioeconomic status, and people living in rural areas or on tribal lands tend to face the most significant barriers to internet access.1 High costs, inadequate infrastructure,2 and limited provider options also impede access (see A4).3
The cost of broadband internet access in the United States exceeds that in many countries with similar penetration rates, creating an “affordability crisis,” according to New America’s Open Technology Institute.4 The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Internet Use Survey, last fielded in 2021, showed that only 50 percent of people with an annual income below $25,000 have both broadband and mobile data plans, compared with 80 percent of those making more than $100,000 per year.5
People living on tribal lands are among the least connected in the country.6 The NTIA reported that only 49 percent of residents on tribal lands had fixed-line home internet service as of 2022.7 Broadband expansion rates lag in these communities compared with other rural areas.8
Older residents use the internet at lower rates than the rest of the population. In 2021, researchers found that about 36 percent of US seniors did not have access to broadband connections at home.9 Black and Hispanic adults report disparities in device use and access to high-speed internet service.10
Increasing broadband access and affordability remains a priority for lawmakers. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), run by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), enrolled 18.2 million out of 51.6 million ACP-eligible households, of which 17.7 million are unconnected, between December 2021 and June 2023.11 The ACP provides a monthly subsidy for internet services of up to $30 for eligible households, and up to $75 for households on tribal lands. Support for the ACP has been widespread, but the $65 billion from the initial appropriation was projected to run out at the beginning of 2024.
The FCC’s Lifeline program has also provided long-term assistance to reduce the cost of telecommunications services. In addition, the NTIA announced the award of $25.7 million to two tribal nations in March 2023 as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP), increasing the total grant-making of the program to over $1.35 billion.12
- 1Andrew Perrin, “Digital gap between rural and nonrural Americans persists,” Pew Research Center, August 19, 2019, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/19/digital-gap-between-rur…; Federal Communications Commission, “Fourteenth Broadband Deployment Report,” January 19, 2021, https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/FCC-21-18A1_Rcd.pdf; NTIA “New NTIA Data Show Enduring Barriers to Closing the Digital Divide, Achieving Digital Equity”, NTIA, 2022. https://ntia.gov/blog/2022/new-ntia-data-show-enduring-barriers-closing…
- 2Federal Communications Commission, Fourteenth Broadband Deployment Report, released January 19, 2021, https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/FCC-21-18A1.pdf.
- 3Christopher Ali, “The Politics of Good Enough,” International Journal of Communication, 2020, https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/15203.
- 4Becky Chao and Claire Park, “The Cost of Connectivity 2020,” New America Open Technology Institute, July 15, 2020, https://www.newamerica.org/oti/reports/cost-connectivity-2020/.
- 5”Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives: 2022 Report”, October 2022. https://broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov/sites/default/files/2022-11/DOC_NTIA_…
- 6Margaret Harding McGill, “The least connected people in America,” Politico, February 7, 2018, https://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2018/02/07/rural-indian-reservati…; Hansi Lo Wang, “Native Americans On Tribal Land are ‘The Least Connected’ to High-Speed Internet,” NPR, December 6, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/12/06/673364305/native-americans-on-tribal-lan…; Brian Howard and Traci Morris, “Tribal Technology Assessment: The State of Internet Service on Tribal Lands,” American Indian Policy Institute, Arizona State University, Fall 2019, https://aipi.asu.edu/sites/default/files/tribal_tech_assessment_compres…; Em McPhie, “Tribal Nations Face Challenges in Accessing and Maximizing Funding: Connected America Conference” https://broadbandbreakfast.com/2023/03/tribal-nations-face-challenges-i…
- 7”Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives: 2022 Report”, October 2022. https://broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov/sites/default/files/2022-11/DOC_NTIA_…
- 8H. Trostle, “Building Indigenous Future Zones: Four Tribal Broadband Case Studies,” Institute for Local Self-Reliance, February, 2021, https://ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/IndigenousFutureZones-0221….
- 9Pew Research Center, “Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet,” April 7, 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/
- 10”Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives: 2022 Report”, October 2022. https://broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov/sites/default/files/2022-11/DOC_NTIA_…
- 11Federal Communications Commission, “FCC Launches Affordable Connectivity Program” Consumer and Government Affairs, January 4, 2022. https://www.fcc.gov/fcc-launches-affordable-connectivity-program ; Education SuperHighway, “No Home Left Offline,” Accessed June 2023, https://www.educationsuperhighway.org/no-home-left-offline/acp-data/
- 12National Telecommunications and Information Administration, “Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program,” https://www.ntia.gov/category/tribal-broadband-connectivity-program?_ga…; National Telecommunications and Information Administration, “Biden-Harris Administration’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program Hits Milestone: More Than $1 Billion Awarded for High-Speed Internet Projects” NTIA, October 11, 2022, https://ntia.gov/press-release/2022/biden-harris-administration-s-triba….
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||6.006 6.006|
The US government imposes minimal restrictions on the public’s ability to access the internet. Private telecommunications companies own and maintain the backbone infrastructure, and there are multiple connection points to the global internet, making a government-imposed disruption of service highly unlikely and difficult.
Law enforcement agencies have previously limited internet connectivity in emergency situations. In 2011, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) authorities restricted mobile internet and telephone service on its train platforms ahead of a planned protest against a fatal shooting by the transit police.1
Standard Operation Procedure 303, approved by a federal task force in 2006, establishes guidelines for wireless network restrictions during a “national crisis.”2 What constitutes a “national crisis,” and what safeguards exist to prevent abuse, remain largely unknown. In 2014, the FCC clarified that it is illegal for state and local law enforcement agencies to jam mobile networks without federal authorization.3
- 1David Kravets, “San Francisco Subway Shuts Cell Service to Foil Protest; Legal Debate Ignites,” Wired, August 15, 2011, https://www.wired.com/2011/08/subway-internet-shuttering/.
- 2Electronic Privacy Information Center, “EPIC v. DHS – SOP 303,” 2018, https://epic.org/foia/dhs/internet-kill-switch/; The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2013 for information about the protocol. After winning an appeal in the DC Circuit, the DHS retained exemption from disclosing SOP 303, and in July of 2015 released a redacted version of the protocol. Electronic Privacy Information Center, “EPIC v. DHS – SOP 303,” 2018, https://epic.org/foia/dhs/internet-kill-switch/; Electronic Privacy Information Center, “NCC Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 303”, September 25, 2009, https://epic.org/foia/dhs/internet-kill-switch/25.1-SOP-303-Updated-Rel….
- 3Federal Communications Commission, “WARNING: Jammer Use Is Prohibited”, December 8, 2014, https://www.fcc.gov/document/warning-jammer-use-public-and-local-law-en…; Melissa Bell, “BART San Francisco Cut Cell Services to Avert Protest,” The Washington Post, August 12, 2011, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/bart-san-francisco-c…..
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||4.004 6.006|
The broadband industry in the United States has grown more concentrated over time. An estimated 83 million people have access to only one broadband provider in their area.1 These de facto local monopolies have exacerbated concerns about high cost and accessibility.2
Comcast leads the fixed-line broadband market, providing more than 29.8 million households with internet services.3 Its chief competitor, Charter Communications, serves 28.3 million households.4 Following a decade of consolidation, three national providers—AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile—dominate the mobile service market.
Consolidation of the telecommunications sector has undermined consumer protection and choice. In 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld AT&T’s acquisition of the media and entertainment company Time Warner,5 despite the Justice Department’s challenge to the merger.6 Less than a year later, reports of financial problems at AT&T surfaced, with customers facing price increases.7 Separately, antitrust experts have called for the reversal of a controversial 2019 merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, another mobile service provider.8
Regulations in 16 states undermine the creation and operation of municipal or publicly owned broadband providers, which have the potential to challenge market consolidation, deliver higher-quality and more affordable service, and reach underserved communities, according to research from BroadbandNow.9 The state of Colorado repealed such limitations in May 2023.10 Legislation granting government entities the authority to offer broadband services was passed in Arkansas and Washington State in 2021, and in New York and Maine in 2022.11
- 1Christopher Mitchell and Katie Kienbaum, “Report: Most Americans Have No Real Choice In Internet Providers,” August 12, 2020, https://ilsr.org/report-most-americans-have-no-real-choice-in-internet-….
- 2Emmanuel Martinez, “The COVID-19 crisis highlights the costs of a U.S. digital divide,” The Markup, March 26, 2020, https://themarkup.org/ask-the-markup/2020/03/26/how-many-americans-lack….; Emily Stewart, “America’s Monopoly problem, explained by your internet bill,” Vox, February 18, 2020, https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/2/18/21126347/antitrust-monopolies-i….
- 3Jon Brodkin, “Comcast stock falls as the company fails to add Internet users for first time ever,” Ars Technica, July 28, 2022. https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2022/07/comcasts-20-year…
- 4Jon Brodkin, “Charter loses home Internet customers, blames end of COVID subsidy program,” Ars Technica, August 1, 2022.https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2022/08/charter-loses-ho…
- 5Edmund Lee and Cecelia Kang, “U.S. Loses Appeal Seeking to Block AT&T-Time Warner Merger,” The New York Times, February 26, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/26/business/media/att-time-warner-appea….
- 6Cecilia Kang and Edmund Lee, “AT&T-Time Warner Deal Approval Gets Justice Department Challenge,” The New York Times, July 12, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/12/business/justice-department-plans-ap….
- 7Karl Bode, “AT&T tried to buy out the streaming wars—and customers are paying for it,” The Verge, January 30, 2020, https://www.theverge.com/2020/1/30/21115181/att-direct-tv-time-warner-a….
- 8Melody Wang, and Fiona Scott Morton, “The Real Dish on the T-Mobile/Sprint Merger: A Disastrous Deal From the Start,” Pro Market, April 23, 2021, https://promarket.org/2021/04/23/dish-t-mobile-sprint-merger-disastrous….; Hal Singer, “The Terrible T-Mobile/Sprint Merger Must be Undone,” Wired, February 25, 2021, https://www.wired.com/story/opinion-the-terrible-t-mobilesprint-merger-….; Brian X. Chen, “T-Mobile and Sprint are Merging. What Does That Mean for You?” The New York Times, July 26, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/technology/personaltech/t-mobile-spr….; Michael J. De La Merced, “Sprint and Softbank End Their Pursuit of a T-Mobile Merger,” The New York Times, August 5, 2014, https://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/08/05/sprint-and-softbank-said-to-aba….
- 9Tyler Cooper, “ Municipal Broadband 2023: 16 States Still Restrict Community Broadband,” May 2, 2023, https://broadbandnow.com/report/municipal-broadband-roadblocks
- 10Claire Park, “Community Broadband: The Fast, Affordable Internet Option That’s Flying Under the Radar,” New America, May 20, 2020, https://www.newamerica.org/oti/reports/community-broadband/; Tyler Cooper., “Municipal Broadband 2023: 17 States Risk BEAD Funding Delays,” April 11, 2023, https://broadbandnow.com/report/municipal-broadband-roadblocks
- 11Max Brantley, “Senate Oks bill to allow cities to Provide broadband service,” Arkansas Times, January 21, 2021, https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2021/01/21/senate-panel-oks-bill-to-…; Jericho Casper, “The State of State Preemption – Seventeen is the Number,” Community Networks, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, September 15, 2021, https://muninetworks.org/content/broadbandnow-report-muni-broadband-wel….; Tyler Cooper, “Municipal Broadband 2023: 17 States Risk BEAD Funding Delays,” https://broadbandnow.com/report/municipal-broadband-roadblocks
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||3.003 4.004|
The FCC is tasked with regulating radio and television broadcasting, interstate communications, and international telecommunications that originate or terminate in the United States. It is formally an independent regulatory agency, but critics on both sides of the political spectrum argue that it has become increasingly politicized in recent years.1
The agency is led by five commissioners nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, with no more than three commissioners from one party. Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner who was originally nominated by former president Barack Obama, was confirmed as the first woman chair of the FCC in December 2021.
A commission vacancy that dated to early 2021 deprived the FCC of a tie-breaking vote throughout the coverage period, limiting regulatory progress on key internet freedom issues such as net neutrality. In May 2023, President Biden nominated Anna Gomez, a telecommunications lawyer then serving in the State Department, to the seat. The Senate confirmed Gomez in September, after the coverage period.2 Biden’s previous nominee, Gigi Sohn, had withdrawn from the process in March 2023 after her nomination stalled for 17 months amid intense political opposition, during which Sohn faced homophobic smears and partisan criticism of her work on digital rights.3
The FCC manages the ongoing process of broadband mapping, which determines the distribution of federal funding to states through BEAD and other programs.4 FCC maps released in December 2022 were criticized by senators, state governments, and public interest technology groups as inaccurate, potentially limiting the funding that states would receive to expand high-speed internet service in unserved or underserved areas.5
Other government agencies, such as the Department of Commerce’s NTIA, play advisory or executive roles on telecommunications, economic, and technology policies. The IIJA, an infrastructure spending measure adopted in 2021, tasked the NTIA with managing the BEAD program (see A1 and A2).6 The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent agency that oversees consumer protection and antitrust efforts, including in the technology sector. The Department of Agriculture is also an important source of funding for broadband initiatives and wields significant influence on policy.7
In 2017, the FCC repealed its 2015 Open Internet Order, often referred to as the net neutrality rule, weakening its regulatory authority over internet service providers (ISPs).8 The agency then instituted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order,9 effectively allowing ISPs to speed up, slow down, or restrict the traffic of selected websites or services at will. Civil society and public interest groups argued that these changes disadvantaged consumers in various ways,10 and that the FCC had abandoned its responsibility to protect a free and open internet (see B6).11
- 1Geoffrey Manne et al., “Putting Politics Over Policy at the FCC,” Truth on the Market, October 4, 2018, https://truthonthemarket.com/2018/10/04/putting-politics-over-policy-at…; Brendan Sasso, “The Increasing Politicization of the FCC,” The Atlantic, February 26, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/02/the-increasing-pol….
- 2Cristiano Lima, “Senate confirms Biden’s FCC nominee, breaking years-long deadlock,” Washington Post, September 7, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/09/07/fcc-anna-gomez-con….
- 3Cat Zakrewski, “Biden FCC nominee withdraws after a bruising lobbying battle,” Washington Post, March 7, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/03/07/gigi-sohn-withdraw…; Makena Kelly, “The FCC’s still in a stalemate a year into Biden’s presidency,” The Verge, January 10, 2022, https://www.theverge.com/22876628/fcc-biden-ftc-gigi-sohn-alvaro-bedoya…
- 4Federal Communications Commission, “Broadband Data Collection,” https://www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData
- 5“Rosen, Capito Lead Effort to Push FCC To Fix Broadband Mapping,” https://www.rosen.senate.gov/2022/12/22/rosen-capito-lead-effort-to-pus… ; Katya Maruri, :”Broadband Offices’ Perspectives on FCC Broadband Map Deadline,” Govtech, January 13, 2023, https://www.govtech.com/network/broadband-offices-perspectives-on-fcc-b…
- 6Julia Edinger and Zack Quaintance, “What’s New in Digital Equity: NTIA Adds Staff to Prep for Infrastructure Grants,” Government Technology, April 7, 2022, https://www.govtech.com/civic/whats-new-in-digital-equity-ntia-adds-sta….
- 7Christopher Ali and Mark Duemmel, “The reluctant regulator: The Rural Utilities Service and American broadband Policy,” Telecommunications Policy, May, 2019, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S030859611830106X.
- 8Stan Adams, “Un-Title II-ed: What Reclassification Means,” Center for Democracy and Technology, May 5, 2017, https://cdt.org/insights/un-title-ii-ed-what-reclassification-means/.; Brian Fung, “The FCC just voted to repeal its net neutrality rules, in a sweeping act of deregulation,” The Washington Post, December 14, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/12/14/the-fcc-is….
- 9Federal Communications Commission, “FCC Releases Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” January 4, 2018, https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-releases-restoring-internet-freedom-or….
- 10New America Open Technology Institute, “Ignoring Widespread and Bipartisan Opposition, FCC Votes to Kill Net Neutrality Rules,” December 14, 2017, https://www.newamerica.org/oti/press-releases/ignoring-widespread-and-b….
- 11Shiva Stella, “FCC Abandons Consumer Protection Responsibility With Net Neutrality Repeal,” Public Knowledge, December 14, 2017, https://www.publicknowledge.org/press-release/fcc-abandons-consumer-pro….; Center for Democracy & Technology, “The FCC Moves to Destroy the Open Internet by Overturning Net Neutrality Protections,” November 21, 2017, https://cdt.org/press/the-fcc-moves-to-destroy-the-open-internet-by-ove…; Jon Brodkin, “If FCC gets in way, we’ll lose a lot more than net neutrality,” Ars Technica, July 12, 2017, https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/07/how-title-ii-goes-beyond-ne….
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||6.006 6.006|
In general, the government does not force ISPs or content hosts to block or filter online material that would be considered protected speech under international human rights law.
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||3.003 4.004|
The government does not directly compel content hosts to censor political or social viewpoints online, though intermediaries can face liability for not restricting certain types of content, such as copyright infringements and child sexual abuse material (CSAM), after becoming aware of it. Broadly speaking, content hosts and social media platforms are the primary decision-makers when it comes to the provision, retention, or moderation of prohibited online content in the United States (see B3).
In June 2021, President Biden rescinded August 2020 orders by former president Donald Trump that would have effectively banned WeChat, a messaging application, and TikTok, the short-video platform, on the grounds that they presented threats to national security; both are owned by China-based companies.1 Federal courts had already blocked implementation of Trump’s orders, citing free speech concerns.2 Biden’s new order directed the Department of Commerce to evaluate the potential national security risks associated with applications that are owned, controlled, or managed by “foreign adversaries.”3 In November 2021, the department released proposed rules that would require third-party audits of such apps;4 the rules remained under review as of May 2023.
The interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) continued its review of TikTok during the coverage period.5 In March 2023, for example, it was reported that CFIUS had proposed a plan under which ByteDance would divest from TikTok.6
In May 2023, Montana passed a law that would prohibit app store providers from making TikTok accessible for state residents starting in January 2024. State officials cited concerns that that the Chinese government could use the app to access Americans’ personal data. The law imposes daily fines of $10,000 for app stores that do not comply.7 Several lawsuits questioning the law’s constitutionality were filed after it was passed, particularly on free-speech grounds; one suit was filed by five TikTok creators and financed by the company.8
Section 230 of the Communications Act, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996—commonly known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—remained a subject of debate among policymakers during the coverage period (see B3). The law shields online providers and content hosts from legal liability for most material created by users, including lawsuits alleging defamation or injurious falsehoods.9 However, there are exceptions to this immunity under federal criminal law, intellectual-property law, laws to combat sex trafficking, and laws protecting the privacy of electronic communications. Judicially recognized exceptions for claims resulting from platforms’ own actions also exist. In July 2022, two judges—one in a case against the Snapchat messaging platform and another in a case against the video chat site Omegle—released conflicting decisions about whether Section 230 protected companies from legal liability as it relates to their product design, in addition to user-generated content.10 Section 230 also ensures legal immunity for social media companies and other content providers that remove content when it violates their terms and conditions of service or their community guidelines.11
The 2018 Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, also referred to as SESTA/FOSTA, established new liability for internet services when they are used to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.12 After the bill passed in the Senate, but before it became law, reports emerged of companies preemptively censoring content: Craigslist announced that it was removing the “personals” section from its website altogether.13 Civil society activists criticized the law for motivating companies to engage in excessive censorship in order to avoid legal action.14 Sex workers and their advocates also argued that the law threatened their safety, since the affected platforms had enabled sex workers to leave exploitive situations, operate independently, communicate with one another, and build protective communities.15 In July 2023, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a constitutional free-speech challenge to SESTA/FOSTA, but narrowed the law’s scope to protect the speech of sex workers themselves, advocacy-related speech about prostitution in general, and the internet services that provide forums for such speech.16
Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), enacted in 1998, created new immunity from copyright claims for online service providers. However, the law’s notice-and-takedown requirements have been criticized for impinging on speech rights,17 as they lack judicial oversight and may incentivize platforms to remove potentially lawful content. Research has shown how DMCA complaints have been filed to take down criticism, commentary, political campaign advertisements, and other speech that should be protected under international free expression standards.18
- 1The White House, “Executive Order on Addressing the Threat Posed by TikTok,” August 6, 2020, https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-address…; The White House, “Executive Order on Addressing the Threat Posed by WeChat,” August 6, 2020, https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-address….; US Department of Commerce, “Commerce Department Prohibits WeChat and TikTok Transactions to Protect the National Security of the United States,” September 18, 2020, https://www.commerce.gov/news/press-releases/2020/09/commerce-departmen….
- 2Kim Lyons, “Judge Blocks US Ban on WeChat That Was Set to Go into Effect Today,” The Verge, September 20, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2020/9/20/21447540/judge-blocks-ban-wechat-tik…; Jeanne Whalen, “Federal court issues preliminary injunction halting administration’s ban of Chinese app WeChat,” The Washington Post, September 21, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/09/20/wechat-ban-blocked….; David Shepardson, “Second U.S. judge blocks Commerce restrictions on TikTok,” Reuters, December 7, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tiktok/second-u-s-judge-blocks-c….; Arjun Kharpal, “Judge Blocks Trump Administration’s Ban on New TikTok Downloads from U.S. App Stores,” CNBC, September, 27, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/28/tiktok-ban-judge-blocks-order-banning-d…; Cat Zazkrzewski and Drew Harwell, “Biden administration weighing new rules to limit TikTok, foreign apps,” The Washington Post, February 2, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/02/02/tiktok-biden-admin…
- 3The White House, “Executive Order on Protecting Americans’ Sensitive Data from Foreign Adversaries,” June 9, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/06/0….; The White House, “FACT SHEET: Executive Order Protecting Americans’ Sensitive Data from Foreign Adversaries,” June 9, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/06/09…; John D. McKinnon and Alex Leary, “Tump’s TikTok, WeChat Actions Targeting China Revoked by Biden,” The Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/biden-revokes-trump-actions-targeting-tikt….
- 4Federal Register the Daily Journal of the United States Government,” Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Sevices Supply Chain; Connected Software Applications,” November 26, 2021, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/11/26/2021-25329/securin….
- 5Cat Zakrzewski and Drew Harwell, “Biden administration weighing new rules to limit TikTok, foreign apps,” The Washington Post, February 2, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/02/02/tiktok-biden-admin….
- 6Jeff Stein, Cat Zakrzewski, Drew Harwell, and Ellen Nakashima, “Biden administration wants TikTok’s Chinese owners to divest.” The Washington Post, March 15, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/03/15/tiktok-ban-biden-c….
- 7SB 419, 68th Montana State Legislature, 2023, https://leg.mt.gov/bills/2023/billpdf/SB0419.pdf.
- 8Dani Anguiano, “Montana becomes first US state to ban TikTok,” May 17, 2023, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/may/17/tiktok-ban-montana; Sapna Maheshwari, “After Montana Banned TikTok, Users Sued. TikTok Is Footing Their Bill.,” June 27, 2023, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/27/business/media/tiktok-ban-montana-la…
- 9Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, “47 U.S. Code § 230.Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material,” https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230; Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act,” https://www.eff.org/issues/cda230.
- 10Isaiah Poritz, “Tech’s Online Content Shield Dented by Product Liability Claims,” Bloomberg Law, July 2022, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/tech-and-telecom-law/techs-online-content…; Adi Robertson, “Omegle can be sued for matching child with sexual predator, says court,” The Verge, July 14, 2022, https://www.theverge.com/2022/7/14/23216386/omegle-lawsuit-section-230-…; Isaiah Poritz, “Snap Escapes Sex-Grooming Suit Citing Communications Decency Act,” Bloomberg Law, July 8, 2022, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/ip-law/snap-escapes-sex-grooming-suit-cit…
- 11Justin Fenton, “Korryn Gaines case: Video posting by suspects poses new challenges for police,” The Baltimore Sun, August 4, 2016, http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/bs-md-ci-facebook-polic….
- 12115th Congress, “H.R.1865 - Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017,” Became Public Law No: 115-164, April 11, 2018, https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1865.
- 13Craigslist, “FOSTA,” https://www.craigslist.org/about/FOSTA.
- 14Elliot Harmon, “How Congress Censored the Internet,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, March 21, 2018, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2018/03/how-congress-censored-internet.
- 15Samantha Cole, “’Sex Trafficking’ Bill Will Take Away Online Spaces Sex Workers Need to Survive,” Vice, March 12, 2018, https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/neqxaw/sex-trafficking-bill-…; Survivors Against SESTA, “The Impact of SESTA/FOSTA: For Workers,” https://survivorsagainstsesta.org/the-impact-of-sesta-fosta/; See, e.g., Eric Goldman, “The Complicated Story of FOSTA and Section 230,” First Amendment Law Review, 2019.; Danielle Blunt and Ariel Wolf, “Erased: The Impact of FOSTA-SESTA & the Removal of Backpage,” Hacking Hustling, 2020, https://hackinghustling.org/erased-the-impact-of-fosta-sesta-2020/
- 16David Greene, “ DC Circuit FOSTA Ruling Lets a Bad Law Stay on the Books, But Offers Meaningful Protection for Some Sex Work Forums and Sex Workers Using Online Services,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, July 22, 2023, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2023/07/dc-circuit-fosta-ruling-lets-bad-….
- 17For a more detailed accounting of studies that document issues related to “Notice and Takedown” regimes see, Daphne Keller, “Empirical Evidence of ‘Over-Removal’ By Internet Companies Under Intermediary Liability Laws,” Stanford Law School, The Center for Internet and Society, May 8, 2020, http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/2015/10/empirical-evidence-over-remov….
- 18Elliot Harmon, “Once Again, DMCA Abused to Target Political Ads,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, November 17, 2015, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/11/once-again-dmca-abused-target-pol….; Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Lenz v. Universal,” https://www.eff.org/cases/lenz-v-universal.; Jennifer M. Urban and Laura Quilter, “Efficient Process or Chilling Effects - Takedown Notices under Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,” Santa Clara High Technology Law Journal, 2006, https://digitalcommons.law.scu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1413&con….; Zack Whittaker, “Proctorio sued for using DMCA to take down a student’s critical tweets,” TechCrunch, April 22, 2021, https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/22/proctorio-sued-dmca-student-tweets/.
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||4.004 4.004|
The government places few restrictions on online content, and existing laws do not allow for broad government blocking of websites or removal of content. Companies that host user-generated content, many of which are headquartered in the United States, have faced criticism for a lack of transparency and consistency when it comes to enforcing their own content moderation rules.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act generally shields online sites and services from legal liability for the activities of their users, allowing user-generated content to flourish on a variety of platforms (see B2).1 Despite robust legal and cultural support for freedom of speech in the United States, the scope of Section 230 has become a focus of criticism. Concerns about CSAM, defamation, cyberbullying and cyberstalking, terrorist content, and protection of children from harmful or indecent material have contributed to calls for reform of the platforms’ legal immunity for user-generated content, as have complaints that platforms are “over-moderating” certain political viewpoints.
Federal lawmakers have proposed numerous bills that would reform Section 230 and increase intermediaries’ liability for the content they host.2 The draft Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act was reintroduced in Congress in April 2023, drawing fresh backlash from technology experts and civil society organizations.3 The bill has been repeatedly amended, but in some versions it would require that providers adopt “best practices” for detecting and combating CSAM on their platforms, or otherwise risk losing Section 230 protections and being held liable for such content. Critics have warned that, as written, the legislation would incentivize providers to censor excessively and suppress online speech, and could also undermine companies’ use of end-to-end encryption (see C4).4 Civil society groups have raised similar concerns about the Strengthening Transparency and Obligation to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment (STOP CSAM) Act, an amended version of which was moved out of committee in May 2023; it would also establish a Section 230 carveout for platforms that fail to take measures to counter CSAM.5
The draft Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency (PACT) Act, initially introduced in 2020 and reintroduced in February 2023 with a few changes,6 would require online platforms to provide expanded explanations of their content moderation practices and force them to adhere to court-mandated takedown orders.7 While the bill received recognition from some observers as a “serious” attempt to address problems with content moderation, civil society groups, industry representatives, and scholars have raised free-speech concerns, warned that the legislation’s takedown provision could be used for censorship, and noted that smaller platforms might lack the resources to remain in compliance.8
In May 2023, the Supreme Court issued two rulings on cases relating to platform liability for content posted by users.9 Gonzalez v. Google LLC raised questions about the scope of Section 230 in relation to algorithmically recommended content, which the court ultimately did not resolve.10 The ruling in Twitter v. Taamneh held that Twitter could not be held liable for aiding and abetting terrorist groups under a federal antiterrorism law.11
In September 2022, the Biden administration called for reforms to Section 230 for large tech platforms.12 In May 2021, the administration had rescinded an executive order by former president Trump that was meant to limit protections for platforms.
There were multiple federal efforts to restrict access to TikTok during the coverage period. In March 2023, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act, which was subsequently endorsed by the White House.13 The bill would empower the secretary of commerce to “identify, deter, disrupt, prevent, prohibit, investigate, or otherwise mitigate” the national security risks posed by the ownership of technology products by “foreign adversaries.” The bill designates China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela as foreign adversaries and allows the secretary to add or remove countries, subject to congressional review. The RESTRICT Act would also authorize the government to “compel divestment” of a foreign adversary–owned technology company.14 The RESTRICT Act sparked significant pushback from civil society groups due to concerns about violations of the constitution’s First Amendment free-speech clause and the risk of setting a precedent for government censorship.15 Other bills introduced in early 2023—like the Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries (DATA) Act, the Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party (ANTI-SOCIAL CCP) Act, and the No Funds for Enablers of Adversarial Propaganda Act—also sought to limit access to TikTok in the United States.16
A bipartisan group of senators reintroduced the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) in May 2023. It would establish a wide range of obligations for social media platforms relating to children, including disclosures around targeted advertising and standardized parental controls.17 Several civil society organizations have raised concerns that the law’s authorization of state attorneys general to enforce a “duty of care” standard on purported harms to children could be abused to restrict access to online content related to reproductive health care and the rights of LGBT+ people.18
Citing concerns about child safety online, lawmakers in several states—California in September 2022,19 Arkansas in April 2023,20 Utah in May 2023,21 and Texas and Louisiana in June 202322 —passed measures that require companies to limit young people’s access to social media without parental consent.23 Civil society advocates warned that the laws, which require platforms to impose age-verification restrictions, would compromise peoples’ privacy (see C4), and that parental oversight provisions could limit young people’s access to helpful information that their parents may not support, such as information about the LGBT+ community.24
Separately, legislators in a number of states—including Arkansas in April 2023,25 Utah and Virginia in May 2023,26 and Texas in June 202327 —passed restrictions specifically aimed at preventing minors from accessing pornography or other content labelled as harmful. The laws require or incentivize companies to implement age verification measures to limit such access (see C4). Adult website operator MindGeek has blocked access to its websites for all users in Utah, Arkansas, Virginia, and other states in response to the laws.28
Lawmakers in several other states—including Florida, Texas, Ohio,29 Kentucky, Arizona, and North Dakota30 —have proposed or passed their own bills to regulate social media companies’ content moderation practices. Critics have argued that various laws that do not explicitly restrict content do so in function. In February 2023, a New York court suspended a state law passed in June 2022 that sought to require online platforms to create a system for users to report “hateful conduct” and publish their policies for responding to such reports; the court ruled that the law effectively compelled speech.31
In January 2023, the Supreme Court requested the US solicitor general’s opinion on appeals regarding the Florida and Texas laws that limit content moderation.32 The court agreed to hear the case in September, after the coverage period.33 In May 2022, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit had struck down most of Florida’s law, which threatened platforms with large fines if they failed to carry the vast majority of content posted by political candidates or broadly defined “journalistic” organizations.34 The appellate court held that companies’ content moderation practices amount to speech protected under the First Amendment of the US constitution.35 In September 2022, however, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the Texas law, which allows Texans to sue social media platforms with over 50 million active users in the United States for allegedly moderating content in a discriminatory manner based on “the viewpoint” of a user. Many legal experts, industry groups, and civil society organizations condemned the Fifth Circuit court’s ruling as inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent.36
Following the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn a 1973 precedent and rule that the constitution did not guarantee a right to abortion, state lawmakers in Texas introduced a bill that establishes procedures for citizens to file civil court cases against social media platforms and ISPs hosting abortion-related content. The bill, introduced in March 2023, would incentivize ISPs and content hosts to avoid civil liability under the law by restricting access to content that could facilitate abortions.37 Lawmakers in Iowa included a similar provision in an antiabortion bill introduced in February 2023.38
Several news outlets reported that in the wake of the Dobbs decision, Facebook and Instagram had removed posts that discussed abortion pills, including general information on how to legally obtain the medication through the mail as well as offers from users to provide the pills to people who live in states with restrictive abortion laws.39 Meta, the two platforms’ parent company, acknowledged incorrect enforcement of its policies in June 2022,40 while NBC News reported in the same month that Instagram had also limited search results for posts that included the terms or hashtags “abortion pills” and “mifepristone,” a common abortion medication.41 WIRED reported in June 2023 that TikTok similarly removed videos sharing information about abortion pills.42
With the exception of the 11th Circuit ruling to uphold Texas’s law, tech companies have successfully argued that moderation decisions are an exercise of their own constitutionally protected right to set platform policies, allowing them to remove content and accounts that violate their rules. Social media platforms reversed their suspensions of former president Trump’s accounts during the coverage period, including Twitter in December 2022,43 Facebook and Instagram in January 2023,44 and YouTube in March 2023.45 The firms restricted the accounts in January 2021 after Trump repeatedly violated platform policies by posting baseless claims about mail-in ballots and voter fraud,46 among other infractions.47
Government efforts to influence platforms on content moderation have drawn legal scrutiny. In July 2023, after the coverage period, a federal judge in Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction that prohibited the Biden administration from contacting social media companies to request “the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech," with exceptions relating to illegal activity and national security. The injunction, which was issued as part of a First Amendment case filed by the state attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana in response to the federal government’s efforts to counter false and misleading information during the 2020 elections and the COVID-19 pandemic, also prohibited government communications with three academic research groups: the Election Integrity Partnership, the Virality Project, and the Stanford Internet Observatory.48 In September 2023, the Fifth Circuit panel upheld a narrowed version of the injunction, applying it to a short list of government agencies and to any efforts to “coerce or significantly encourage” specific content moderation actions.49
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other major platforms have faced criticism for insufficient transparency regarding the enforcement of their respective community standards, as well as for the effects of this enforcement on marginalized populations.50 A number of studies and independent audits have identified cases of racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination in the platforms’ content moderation and advertising policies that affected the speech of people in the United States.51 Twitter faced particular criticism for moderation and policy decisions that were made after the company was acquired by tech investor and entrepreneur Elon Musk in October 2022, such as the suspension of several journalists’ accounts in response to their reporting on Musk.52
Throughout late 2022 and 2023, Musk facilitated the disclosure of internal company communications—which he dubbed “the Twitter Files”—to a network of journalists and commentators. The disclosures largely detailed Twitter’s past content moderation practices and interactions with the US government, such as requests from government agencies and political figures to remove false information or abusive content.53 Critics charged that the disclosures were selective and politically motivated.54
Companies that serve as providers of internet infrastructure enforce their own discretionary speech policies. In September 2022, the web-security and content-delivery firm Cloudflare stopped providing services to Kiwifarms, an online forum that had facilitated egregious harassment and contributed to offline harms including suicide.55
- 1Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, “47 U.S. Code § 230.Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material,” https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230; Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act,” https://www.eff.org/issues/cda230.
- 2Issie Lapowsky, “Jan. 6 launched a wave of anti-content moderation bills in America,” Protocol, January 6, 2022, https://www.protocol.com/bulletins/anti-content-moderation-bills; Eric Goldman, “While Our Country is Engulfed by Urgent Must-Solve Problems, Congress is Working Hard to Burn Down Section 230,” Technology & Marketing Law Blog, August 4, 2020, https://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2020/08/while-our-country-is-engu….; “The Telecommunications Act’s “Good Samaritan Protection: Section 230,” Disruptive Competition Project, accessed October 1, 2020, https://www.project-disco.org/section-230/; Kiran Jeevanjee, Brian Lim, Irene Ly, Matt Perault, Jenna Ruddock, Tim Schmeling, Niharika Vattikonda, and Joyce Zhou, “All the Ways Congress Wants to Change Section 230,” Slate, March 23, 2021, https://slate.com/technology/2021/03/section-230-reform-legislative-tra…
- 3See, e.g., “ACLU Strongly Opposes Cascade of Dangerous Legislation Threatening to Destroy Digital Privacy,” American Civil Liberties Union, May 4, 2023, https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/aclu-strongly-opposes-cascade-of-da….
- 4Thomas Claburn, ”America’s EARN IT Act attacking Section 230 is back – and once again threatening the internet, critics say,” February 5, 2022, https://www.theregister.com/2022/02/02/earnit_act_section230/.
- 5Sophia Cope and Andrew Crocker, “The STOP CSAM Act: Improved But Still Problematic,” May 10, 2023, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2023/05/stop-csam-act-improved-still-prob….
- 6Devin Coldewey, “PACT Act takes on Internet Platform Content Rules with ‘a scalpel rather than a jackhammer,” TechCrunch, June 24, 2020, https://techcrunch.com/2020/06/24/pact-act-takes-on-internet-platform-c…; “All Information (Except Text) for S.4066 - PACT Act,” Congress, June 24, 2020, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/4066/all-info.
- 7”S.483 - Internet PACT Act,” february 16, 2023, Congress.gov, https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/senate-bill/483.
- 8Shiva Stella, “PACT Act Would Shine Light on Platforms’ Content Moderation Decisions to Benefit Consumers,” Public Knowledge, March 17, 2021, https://www.publicknowledge.org/press-release/pact-act-would-shine-ligh…; Aaron Mackey, “Even with Changes, the Revised PACT Act Will Lead to More Online Censorship,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2021/03/even-changes-revised-pact-act-wil…; Eric Goldman, “Comments on the ‘Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act’ (the ‘PACT Act’),” Technology and Marketing Law Blog, July 27, 2021, https://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2020/07/comments-on-the-platform-…; Daphne Keller, “ CDA 230 Reform Grows Up: The PACT Act has Problems, but it’s Talking about the Right Things,” The Center for Internet and Society, July 16, 2020, http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/2020/07/cda-230-reform-grows-pact-act…; Rebecca Kern, “Renewed Liability Shield Bill Aims to Hold Tech Accountable,” Bloomberg Government, March 17, 2021, https://about.bgov.com/news/senators-renew-liability-shield-attack-to-h….
- 9Sasa Jovanovic, Alexis Jori Shanes, and Hannah Sweeney, “The Taamneh and Gonzalez Rulings, Explained,” Lawfare, May 19, 2023, https://www.lawfareblog.com/taamneh-and-gonzalez-rulings-explained.
- 10Amy Howe, “Court agrees to hear nine new cases, including challenge to tech companies’ immunity under Section 230,” SCOTUSblog, October 3, 2022, https://www.scotusblog.com/2022/10/court-agrees-to-hear-nine-new-cases-….
- 11Robert Barnes, et al, “Supreme Court consideres if Google is liable for recommending ISIS videos,” Washington Post, February 21, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/02/21/gonzalez-v-google-…; John Fritze, “Supreme Court eager to steer clear of sweeping changes to internet in Section 230 dispute,” USA Today, February 21, 2022. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2023/02/21/supreme-court-s…
- 12“Readout of White House Listening Session on Tech Platform Accountability,” The White House, September 8, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/09/08…
- 13Kevin Collier and Scott Wong, “White House backs bipartisan bill that could be used to ban TikTok,” March 7, 2023, NBC News, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/restrict-act-bill-tiktok-rcna736…
- 14RESTRICT Act, S.686, 118th Congress of the United States, https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/senate-bill/686/text.
- 15“LETTER TO CONGRESS OPPOSING FEDERAL LAW TO IMPOSE A BAN ON TIKTOK,” March 23, 2023, Pen America, https://pen.org/letter-to-congress-opposing-federal-law-to-impose-a-ban…
- 16Kennedy Patlan, Rachel Lau, and Carly Cramer, “March 2023 U.S. Tech Policy Roundup,” April 1, 2023, Tech Policy Press, https://techpolicy.press/march-2023-u-s-tech-policy-roundup/
- 17S. 1409, Kids Online Safety Act, 118th Congress, https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/senate-bill/1409.
- 18Aliya Bhatia, “Senate Commerce Should Reject Bills Jeopardizing Online Safety for Kids and Adults,” Center for Democracy and Technology, July 25, 2023, https://cdt.org/insights/senate-commerce-should-reject-bills-jeopardizi….
- 19Assembly Bill No. 2237, California Legislative Information, September 16, 2022, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=2…
- 20SB 396, Arkansas State Legislature, 94th General Assembly, 2023, https://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/Bills/Detail?id=SB396&ddBienniumSession=….
- 21SB 152, Utah State Legislature, 2023, https://le.utah.gov/~2023/bills/static/SB0152.html.
- 22HB 18, Texas State Legislature, 2023, https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=88R&Bill=HB18; HB 61, Louisiana State Legislature, 2023, https://legis.la.gov/legis/BillInfo.aspx?s=23RS&b=HB61&sbi=y/
- 23Kyooeun Jang, Lulia Pan, and Nicol Turner Lee, “The fragmentation of online child safety regulations,” Brookings Institute, August 14, 2023, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/patchwork-protection-of-minors/.
- 24Hannah Murphy, “US states’ social media laws to protect kids create challenges for platforms,” Financial Times, May 13, 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/1bd99ff1-c8c3-4f28-b011-e2f8aeaba833/.
- 25SB 66, Arkansas State Legislature, 94th General Assembly, 2023, https://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/Bills/Detail?id=sb66&ddBienniumSession=2….
- 26SB 287, Utah State Legislature, 2023, https://le.utah.gov/~2023/bills/static/SB0287.html; SB 1515, Virginia Legislative Information System, 2023, https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?231+sum+SB1515.
- 27HB 18, Texas State Legislature, 2023, https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=88R&Bill=HB18.
- 28Makena Kelly, “Pornhub goes dark in Arkansas after age verification law kicks in,” The Verge, August 3, 2023, https://www.theverge.com/2023/8/3/23818865/pornhub-mindgeek-arkansas-ag….
- 29Alison Frankel, “Are internet companies ‘common carriers’ of content? Courts diverge on key question,” Reuters, May 31, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/legal/transactional/are-internet-companies-comm….
- 30Mike Masnick, “Various States All Pile On To Push Blatantly Unconstitutional Laws That Saw Social Media Can’t Moderate,” Tech Dirt, February 4, 2021, https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20210203/16453346175/various-states-a…. ; “Gov. Greg Abbott wants Texans to be able to sue social media for censorship,“ by Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman, March 5, 2021, https://www.statesman.com/story/news/2021/03/05/texas-gov-greg-abbott-s…; “Texas governor backs law to prohibit Facebook and Twitter from banning users,” by Stephen Gandel, CBS News, March 5, 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-greg-abbott-social-media-conservativ…
- 31Opinion and order in Volokh v. James, 22-CV-10195 (ALC), February 14, 2023, https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.nysd.590358/gov.us…
- 32Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court Puts Off Considering State Laws Curbing Internet Platforms,” New York Times, January 24, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/23/us/scotus-internet-florida-texas-spe….
- 33Ashley Gold, “Supreme Court to rule on Texas, Florida social media laws,” Axios, September 29, 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/09/29/supreme-court-texas-florida-social-med….
- 34“SB 7072: Social Media Platforms,” The Florida State Senate, accessed June 1, 2021, https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2021/7072/?Tab=BillText; David Ingram and Ben Kamisar, “In nod to Trump, Florida is set to ban ‘deplatforming’ by Tech companies,” NBC News, April 30, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/nod-donald-trump-florida….
- 35Cat Zakrzewski, “11th Circuit blocks major provisions of Florida’s social media law,” The Washington Post, May 23, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/05/23/florida-social-med….
- 36Cat Zakrzewski, “Appeals court upholds Texas law regulating social media moderation,” The Washington Post, September 16, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/09/16/5th-circuit-texas-….; Alan Z. Rozenshtein, “The Fifth Circuit’s Social Media Decision: A Dangerous Example of First Amendment Absolutism,” Lawfare, September 20, 2022, https://www.lawfareblog.com/fifth-circuits-social-media-decision-danger…; Daphne Keller, “Lawful but Awful? Control over Legal Speech by Platforms, Governments, and Internet Users,” The University of Chicago Law Review Online, June 28, 2022, https://lawreviewblog.uchicago.edu/2022/06/28/keller-control-over-speec…; Mike Masnick, “5th Circuit Rewrites A Century Of 1st Amendment Law To Argue Internet Companies Have No Right To Moderate,” techdirt, September 16, 2022, https://www.techdirt.com/2022/09/16/5th-circuit-rewrites-a-century-of-1…; Heather Greenfield, “38 Organizations and Experts in Continued Effort to Halt Unconstitutional Texas Social Media Law,” Computer & Communications Industry Association, May 18, 2022, https://www.ccianet.org/2022/05/ccia-welcomes-support-halt-unconstituti…
- 37Vittoria Elliott, “Texas Could Push Tech Platforms to Censor Posts About Abortion,” Wired, April 14, 2023. https://www.wired.com/story/texas-could-push-tech-platforms-to-censor-p…
- 38Iowa House Bill 510, February 28, 2023, https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ba=HF510&ga=90.
- 39Kari Paul, “Facebook and Instagram removing posts with mentions of abortion pills,” The Guardian, June 28, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/jun/28/facebook-instagram-m…; Amanda Seitz, “Instagram and Facebook remove posts offering abortion,” Associated Press, June 27, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/abortion-technology-politics-health-016eb3ef….
- 40Andy Stone, Tweet, June 27, 2022, 2:30pm, https://twitter.com/andymstone/status/1541489203434897408
- 41Ben Goggin, “Instagram restricts some abortion resource posts and hashtags,” NBC News, June 27, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet/instagram-restricts-abortion-reso…
- 42Vittoria Elliot, “TikTok Keeps Removing Abortion Pill Content,” WIRED, June 24, 2023, https://www.wired.com/story/tiktok-abortion-content-censorship/.
- 43Clare Duffy and Paul Leblanc, “Elon Musk restores Donald Trump’s Twitter account,” CNN, November 19, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/11/19/business/twitter-musk-trump-reinstate/in….
- 44Nick Clegg, “Ending Suspension of Trump’s Accounts With New Guardrails to Deter Repeat Offenses,” About.fb, January 25, 2023.https://about.fb.com/news/2023/01/trump-facebook-instagram-account-susp…
- 45Amanda Silberling, “YouTube reinstates Donald Trump’s account,” TechCrunch, March 17, 2023, https://techcrunch.com/2023/03/17/youtube-reinstates-donald-trumps-acco….
- 46Will Oremus, “Inside Twitter’s Decision to Fact-Check Trump’s Tweets,” Medium OneZero, May 28, 2020, https://onezero.medium.com/inside-twitters-decision-to-fact-check-a-tru….
- 47Hannah Denham, “These are the platforms that have banned Trump and his allies,” The Washington Post, January 14, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/01/11/trump-banned-socia…; Twitter, Inc., “Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump,” Twitter, January 8, 2021, https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/suspension.html.; Mike Isaac and Kate Conger, “Facebook Bars Trump Through End of His Term,” The New York Times, April 7, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/07/technology/facebook-trump-ban.html; Jay Peters, “Facebook and Instagram ban Trump for 24 hours,” The Verge, January 6th, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2021/1/6/22218009/trump-facebook-ban-block-pos….
- 48Missouri v. Biden Motion for Preliminary Injunction Judgement, July 4, 2023, https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.lawd.189520/gov.us….
- 49Cat Zakrzewski and Joseph Menn, “5th Circuit finds Biden White House, CDC likely violated First Amendment,” Washington Post, September 9, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/09/08/5th-circuit-ruling….
- 50Megan Farokhmanesh, “YouTube is still restricting and demonetizing LGBT videos — and adding anti-LGBT ads to some,” The Verge, June 4, 2018, https://www.theverge.com/2018/6/4/17424472/youtube-lgbt-demonetization-…; Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler, “Why Won’t Twitter Treat White Supremacy Like ISIS? Because It Would Mean Banning Some Republican Politicians Too,” Vice, April 25, 2019, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/a3xgq5/why-wont-twitter-treat-white-….
- 51Elizabeth Dwoskin, Tiasha Tiku, and Craig Timberg, “Facebook’s race-blind practices around hate speech came at the expense of Black users, new documents show,“ The Washington Post, November 21, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/11/21/facebook-algorithm…; Oliver L. Haimson, Daniel Delmonaco, Peipei Nie, and Andrea Wegner. 2021. Disproportionate Removals and Differing Content Moderation Experiences for Conservative, Transgender, and Black Social Media Users: Marginalization and Moderation Gray Areas. Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact. 5, CSCW2, Article 466 (October 2021), 35 pages. https://doi.org/10.1145/3479610; Facebook’s Civil Rights Audit – Final Report,” July 8, 2020, https://about.fb.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Civil-Rights-Audit-Fina…; Will Oremus, “YouTube’s LGBTQ Problem is a Business-Model Problem,” August 15, 2019, https://onezero.medium.com/youtubes-lgbtq-problem-is-a-business-model-p…;; Matt Chase, “Google Blocks Advertisers from Targeting Black Lives Matter YouTube Videos,” The Markup, April 9, 2021, https://themarkup.org/google-the-giant/2021/04/09/google-blocks-adverti….; Karen Ho, “Facebook’s ad algorithms are still excluding women from seeing jobs,” Technology Review, April 9, 2021, https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/04/09/1022217/facebook-ad-algorit…; Angel Diaz and Laura Hecht-Felella, Doubles Standards in Social Media Content, August 4, 2021, https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/2021-08/Double_Standa….
- 52Jason Abbruzzese, Kevin Collier and Phil Helsel, “Twitter suspends journalists who have been covering Elon Musk and the company,” December 15, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/social-media/twitter-suspends-journalists-….
- 53Devin Coldeway, “Deconstructing ‘The Twitter Files,’” TechCrunch, January 13, 2023, https://techcrunch.com/2023/01/13/deconstructing-the-twitter-files/.
- 54See, e.g,, Will Oremus, “Elon Musk’s ‘Twitter files’ are an exercise in hypocrisy,” Washington Post, December 16, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/12/16/twitter-files-musk…; Benjamin Wallace-Wells, “What the Twitter Files Reveal about Free Speech and Social Media,” New Yorker, January 11, 2023, https://www.newyorker.com/news/the-political-scene/what-the-twitter-fil….
- 55Matthew Prince, “Blocking Kiwifarms,” Cloudflare, September 3, 2022, https://blog.cloudflare.com/kiwifarms-blocked/.
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||3.003 4.004|
Reports of self-censorship among journalists, commentators, and ordinary internet users are not pervasive in the United States. Women, LGBT+ people, and members of other marginalized communities are frequent targets of online harassment and abuse, which can encourage self-censorship (see C7). Government surveillance practices may also contribute to self-censorship.1
- 1Elizabeth Stoycheff, “Under Surveillance: Examining Facebook’s Spiral of Silence Effects in the Wake of NSA Internet Monitoring,” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 2016, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1077699016630255; Karen Turner, “Mass surveillance silences minority opinions, according to study,” The Washington Post, March 28, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/03/28/mass-surve….; Elizabeth Stoycheff et al., “Privacy and the Panopticon: Online mass surveillance’s deterrence and chilling effects,” New Media & Society, 2019, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1461444818801317.
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||2.002 4.004|
False, manipulated, and misleading information is disseminated by both foreign and domestic entities in the United States. While sources from across the political spectrum deliberately spread such information,1 multiple academic studies and civil society research have shown that the tactic is disproportionately utilized by powerful figures on the right.2
Political actors spread false and misleading information about voting, electoral administration, and electoral integrity ahead of, during, and after the November 2022 midterm elections (see B7).3 Specifically, false narratives coalesced around electronic voting machines, counting procedures, vote-by-mail procedures, voting locations, and voting requirements. For example, according to the Washington Post, more than 100 Republican Party nominees for Congress or statewide office embraced false narratives about the 2020 presidential election result ahead of the November 2022 midterm elections.4 The nonpartisan Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) found that far-right social media influencers spread false information about ballot collection and tallying in key races on and after election day.5
The EIP reported that misleading or false claims regarding the 2020 presidential vote contributed to a single, larger metanarrative about a “stolen election.”6 Researchers determined that the false electoral narratives were primarily spread by right-wing social media influencers; hyperpartisan and fringe media outlets; right-leaning mainstream media outlets; and political figures, including former president Trump and his family members.7 The EIP similarly concluded that the surge in baseless allegations of electoral fraud online helped to propel the assault on the Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021.8 The House of Representatives’ bipartisan Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol, launched in June 2021, also investigated false and misleading information spread online by former president Trump and his allies, reaching conclusions similar to those of the EIP.9
False and misleading information about the war in Ukraine following the Russian government’s February 2022 invasion continued to permeate the online space during the coverage period. Narratives emanating from Russian progovernment sources have been shared by some users in the United States, including prominent media and political figures.10 In April 2023, federal authorities charged four US citizens affiliated with the socialist Uhuru Movement for allegedly disseminating pro-Kremlin propaganda, including online and regarding the war in Ukraine; authorities also charged three Russian nationals.11 Researchers found that pro-Kremlin disinformation has increasingly spread on smaller platforms like Parler, Rumble, and Gab.12
Political actors have spread manipulated information about COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020.13 For instance, analysis from NBC News found that media featuring Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. sharing false or misleading information about COVID-19 had spread across YouTube, Twitter, Spotify, and Rumble.14 Previously, reports from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and the Virality Project, a coalition of experts led by the Stanford Internet Observatory, found that the main spreaders of false or misleading information related to COVID-19 in 2021 were antivaccine and wellness influencers, popular conspiracy theorist accounts, right-leaning political figures, and “media freedom” influencers.15
US officials and experts have been particularly concerned about influence operations carried out by actors based in Russia, China, and Iran, including ahead of the November 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 general elections.16 Twitter identified six networks with links to China and Iran that were active in posting content about the midterms; the EIP found that the networks sought to amplify polarizing content aimed at right- and left-wing audiences.17 In August 2023, after the coverage period, Meta disclosed that it had removed a large network of accounts associated with a cross-platform campaign to spread positive commentary about China and criticism of the United States and perceived opponents of the Chinese government. Meta linked the network, which targeted audiences in the United States among many other regions, to individuals associated with Chinese law enforcement agencies. Meta also disclosed that an influence operation seeking to undermine support for Ukraine had extended its reach to US audiences in early 2023. The operation, which was attributed to organizations linked to the Russian government, spoofed the websites of Fox News and the Washington Post to promote articles criticizing Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US policy on Ukraine, and disseminated the articles on social media platforms.18
Online news outlets in the United States are generally free from either formal arrangements or coercive mechanisms that compel them to provide favorable coverage of the government. Yet political and economic factors can sometimes intersect to incentivize a close relationship between a political party and a given news organization.19
Hyperpartisan news sites have played a central role in spreading false, misleading, and conspiratorial information to US audiences. For instance, analysis from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that the Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog, published 65 articles in the month after the 2022 elections that featured defeated Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s conspiracist claims about election fraud, drawing election denialists’ attention to the Arizona balloting.20
- 1Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman, and Jonah M. Kessel, “Analyst Who Reported the Infamous Trump Tape Rumor Wants to Clear His Name,” New York Times, October 21, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/21/us/politics/igor-danchenko-steele-do…; Scott Shane and Alan Blinder, “Secret Experiment in Alabama Senate Race Imitated Russian Tactics,” New York Times, December 19, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/19/us/alabama-senate-roy-jones-russia.h…; PEN America, “Truth on the Ballot: Fraudulent News, the Midterm Elections, and Prospects for 2020,” March 13, 2019, https://pen.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Truth-on-the-Ballot-report.p….
- 2Deen Freelon, Alice Marwick, and Daniel Kriess, “False Equivalencies: Online activism from left to right,” Science, September 2020, https://pen.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Truth-on-the-Ballot-report.p….; Oxford Internet Institute Press Release, “Junk News Dominating Coverage Of US Midterms On Social Media, New Research Finds,” November 1, 2018, https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/news-events/news/junk-news-dominating-coverage…; Renée DiResta, “The Misinformation Campaign Was Distinctly One-Sided,” The Atlantic, March 15, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/03/right-wing-propagandi…; Laura Edelson, Minh-Kha Nguyen, Ian Goldstein, Oana Goga, Tobias Lauinger, and Damon McCoy, “Far-right news sources on Facebook more engaging,” Cybsersecurity for Democracy, March 3, 2021, https://medium.com/cybersecurity-for-democracy/far-right-news-sources-o….
- 3Amy Gardner and Isaac Arnsdorf, “More than 100 GOP primary winners back Trump’s false fraud claims,” the Washington Post, June 14, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/06/14/more-than-100-gop-pr…. Steven Lee Myers. “Russia Reactivates its trolls and bots ahead of Tuesday’s midterms,” The New York Times. November 6, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/06/technology/russia-misinformation-mid…
- 4Maggie Macdonald and Megan A. Brown, “Republicans are increasingly sharing misinformation, research finds,” the Washington Post, August 29, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/08/29/republicans-democrat…; Megan A. Brown and Maggie Macdonald, “Methods Supplement for “More and more, Republicans are sharing misinformation, research finds," August 26, 2022, https://csmapnyu.org/assets/publications/2022_08_26_Methods_Supplement_….
- 5Election Integrity Partnership, “Missteps, Mistakes, and Misinformation About Maricopa County,” November 14, 2022, https://www.eipartnership.net/blog/maricopa-county-arizona-voting-misin…; Election Integrity Partnership, “Misinformed Monitors: How Conspiracy Theories Surrounding “Ballot Mules” Led to Accusations of Voter Intimidation,” November 7, 2022, https://www.eipartnership.net/blog/conspiracy-theories-ballot-mules-vot….
- 6Atlantic Council’s DFRLab, “#StopTheSteal: Timeline of Social Media and Extremist Activities Leading to 1/6 Insurrection,” Just Security, February 10, 2021, https://www.justsecurity.org/74622/stopthesteal-timeline-of-social-medi….; Rob Kuznia, Curt Devine, Nelli Black, and Drew Griffin, “Stop the Steal’s massive disinformation campaign connected to Roger Stone,” CNN, November 14, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/13/business/stop-the-steal-disinformation-c….
- 7Election Integrity Partnership, “The Long Fuse: Misinformation and the 2020 Election,” Digital Forensic Research Lab, Graphika, Stanford Internet Observatory, and US Center for an Informed Public, 2021, https://stacks.stanford.edu/file/druid:tr171zs0069/EIP-Final-Report.pdf; Steven Lee Myers, Sheera Frenkel, How Disinformation Splitntered and Became More Intractable,” https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/20/technology/disinformation-spread.html
- 8Jared Holt, “After the insurrection: How domestic extremists adapted and evolved after the January 6 U.S. Capitol attack,” The Atlantic Council, January 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/report/after-…; Mike DeBonis and Jeremy Barr, “Rewriting January 6th: Republicans push false and misleading accounts of Capitol riot,” The Washington Post, March 1, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/republicans-riot-false-account…; Sebastian Murdock, “Republicans Try To Rewrite History During Capitol Attack Hearing,” Huff Post, May 13, 2021, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/republicans-try-to-rewrite-history-durin…; Lisa Lerer and Nicholas Fandos, “Already Distorting Jan. 6, G.O.P. Now Concocts Entire Counternarrative,” The New York Times, July 31, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/31/us/politics/jan-6-capitol-riot-pelos….
- 9Ryan Goodman and Sang-Min Kim, “Citizens Guide to January 6th Hearings: Comprehensive Account of the Evidentiary Record,” Just Security, September 7, 2022, https://www.justsecurity.org/82975/the-january-6th-hearings-a-comprehen….
- 10Jeremy W. Peters, “Food Supply Disruption Is Another Front for Russian Falsehoods,” the New York Times, September 18, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/19/business/media/russia-war-food-suppl…; Vedika Bahl, “Stew Peters, Twitter's far-right American voice of pro-Russian propaganda,” France24, February 28, 2023, https://www.france24.com/en/tv-shows/truth-or-fake/20230228-stew-peters….
- 11Ionov et al. indictment, M.D. Fla., April 13, 2023, https://www.justice.gov/d9/press-releases/attachments/2023/04/18/ionov_…; Jessica Lyons Hardcastle, “US citizens charged with pushing pro-Kremlin disinfo, election interference,” The Register, April 18, 2023, https://www.theregister.com/2023/04/18/americans_russians_doj_disinfomr….
- 12Peter Stone, “Russia disinformation looks to US far right to weaken Ukraine support,” The Guardian, March 16, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/16/russia-disinformation-us-…
- 13Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Noah Weiland, “Study Finds ‘Single Largest Driver’ of Coronavirus Misinformation: Trump,” The New York Times, September 30, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/30/us/politics/trump-coronavirus-misinf…; Michele W. Berger, “Why CovId misinformation continues to spread,” February 9, 2023, https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/Penn-research-why-covid-misinformation…
- 14Khadijah Khogeer, “RFK Jr. divides social media platforms with vaccine misinformation,” NBC News, June 23, 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/social-media/robert-f-kennedy-jr-rfk-vacci….
- 15The Virality Project, “Memes, Magnets and Microchips: Narrative dynamics around COVID-19 vaccines,” Stanford Digital Repository, 2022, https://purl.stanford.edu/mx395xj8490; “The Disinformation Dozen: Why platforms must act on twelve leading online anti-vaxxers,” Center for Countering Digital Hate, 2021, https://www.counterhate.com/disinformationdozen.
- 16Adam Goldman, “Intelligence Agencies Say Russia Election Threat Persists Amid Ukraine War,” the New York Times, July 19, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/19/us/politics/fbi-nsa-russia-midterm-e…; Clint Watts, “Who Cares about a Midterm Election? Comparing Russia, Iran, and China’s Electoral Interference from Past to Present,” Alliance for Securing Democracy, May 19, 2022, https://securingdemocracy.gmfus.org/who-cares-about-a-midterm-election-….
- 17Election Integrity Partnership, “Assessing Inauthentic Networks Commenting on the US Midterms,” November 1, 2022, https://www.eipartnership.net/blog/inauthentic-foreign-networks.
- 18Second Quarter Adversarial Threat Report, Meta, August 2023, https://transparency.fb.com/sr/Q2-2023-Adversarial-threat-report.
- 19Jane Mayer, “The Making of the Fox News White House, The New Yorker, March 4, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/03/11/the-making-of-the-fox-new…; Michael M. Grynbaum, “Fox News Once Gave Trump a Perch. Now it’s his Bullhorn.” New York Times, July 1, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/01/business/media/fox-news-trump-bill-s…; Laura Wronski, “For cable news, partisanship drives trust,” SurveyMonkey, https://www.surveymonkey.com/curiosity/cable-news-partisanship-drives-t….
- 20Isabel Jones, Lucy Cooper, Sabine Lawrence, Rhea Bhatnagar, Eric Levai, Ciaran O’Connor, and Jared Holt, “Five key takeaways from election denialist activity during the 2022 midterms,” Institute for Strategic Dialogue, December 20, 2022, https://www.isdglobal.org/digital_dispatches/election-denialist-trends-….
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||3.003 3.003|
There are no government-imposed economic or regulatory constraints on internet users’ ability to publish content. Online outlets and blogs generally do not need to register with, or have favorable connections to, the government to operate. Media sites can accept advertising from both domestic and foreign sources.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) does not entail any direct restrictions on an outlet’s content or the ability to publish online, but it does require those that qualify as foreign agents to disclose their organizational structures and finances. US federal agencies have identified certain Chinese and Russian state media companies as “foreign missions” or “foreign agents,” and both designations come with certain reporting requirements and other limitations.1 In August 2021, the Justice Department required Sing Tao, a Hong Kong newspaper known for its pro-Beijing stance, to register as a foreign agent.2
Experts argue that the FCC’s 2017 repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order could result in new constraints for those wishing to publish online (see A5).3 Under President Biden, proponents of net neutrality have been guardedly optimistic about the principle’s potential revival. In July 2021, Biden signed an executive order that contained several directives to develop stronger regulations related to net neutrality.4
Since 2018, numerous state legislatures, attorneys general, and civil society groups have also sought to restore net neutrality.5 In October 2019, a federal appeals court upheld the FCC’s repeal of the Open Internet Order,6 but it also ruled that the commission could not preemptively block states from enacting their own laws to safeguard net neutrality. Several states have successfully adopted laws or executive orders to that end.7
- 1Conor Finnegan, “US forces 5 Chinese media outlets to register as foreign missions,” ABC News, February 18, 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/us-forces-chinese-media-outlets-registe…; John Ruwitch and Michele Kelemen, “Trump Administration Labels 4 More Chinese News Outlets 'Foreign Missions',” NPR, June 22, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/06/22/881755421/trump-administration-labels-4-….; Committee to Protect Journalists, “Several foreign news outlets required to register as foreign agents in US,” July 2, 2019, https://cpj.org/2019/07/several-foreign-news-outlets-required-to-regist….
- 2Lachlan Markay, “DOJ brands Chinese-owned U.S. newspaper a foreign agent,” Axios, August 25, 2021, https://www.axios.com/doj-chinese-owned-sing-tao-newspaper-foreign-agen…
- 3Kristen Hare, “Report: The repeal of net neutrality will hurt local news,” Poynter, December 11, 2017, https://www.poynter.org/tech-tools/2017/report-the-repeal-of-net-neutra…; Lion Publishers, “Net Neutrality repeal could damage local news startups,” https://www.lionpublishers.com/net-neutrality-repeal-could-damage-local….
- 4Richard Lawler, “Biden’s executive order puts net neutrality back in the spotlight,” The Verge, July 9, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2021/7/9/22570567/biden-net-neutrality-competi….
- 5US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, “New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia v. FCC and United States of America,” January 16, 2018, https://ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/petition_-_filed.pdf; US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, “Mozilla Corporation v. FCC and United States of America,” January 16, 2018, https://blog.mozilla.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/AS-FILED-Mozilla-Pr…; Shiva Stella, “Public Knowledge Files Protective Petition in D.C. Circuit Regarding Net Neutrality Rollback,” Public Knowledge, January 16, 2018, https://www.publicknowledge.org/press-release/public-knowledge-files-pr…; New America Open Technology Institute, “OTI Challenges FCC Chairman Pai’s Net Neutrality Repeal by Filing Protective Petition for Review in D.C. Circuit,” January 16, 2018, https://www.newamerica.org/oti/press-releases/oti-challenges-fcc-chairm…; US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, “Free Press v. FCC and United States of America,” https://www.freepress.net/sites/default/files/legacy-policy/free_press_….
- 6US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, “Mozilla Corporation v. FCC and United States of America,” February 1, 2019, https://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/FA43C305E2B9A354852….
- 7Heather Morton, “Net Neutrality 2020 Legislation,” National Conference of State Legislatures, March 27, 2020, https://www.ncsl.org/research/telecommunications-and-information-techno….; Suhauna Hussain, “Upholding FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules, court opens door for California to enforce its own,” Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-10-03/fcc-net-neutrality-ru…; Tom Wheeler, “California Will Have an Open Internet,” The New York Times, October 2, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/opinion/net-neutrality-fcc-wheeler.h….; Xander Landen, “Vermont holds fire on net neutrality law, despite legal win for states,” VTD, October 4, 2019, https://vtdigger.org/2019/10/04/vermont-holds-fire-on-net-neutrality-la….; Avery Anapol, “Oregon passes net neutrality law,” The Hill, April 10, 2018, https://thehill.com/policy/technology/382412-oregon-passes-net-neutrali….; Harper Neidig, “New Jersey governor signs net neutrality order,” The Hill, February 5, 2018, https://thehill.com/policy/technology/372409-new-jersey-governor-signs-….
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability?||3.003 4.004|
As a whole, the online environment in the United States is dynamic and diverse. People can easily find and publish content on a range of issues, covering a variety of communities, and in multiple languages. However, an upswelling of misinformation, hyperpartisan speech, and conspiracist content has threatened the information ecosystem in recent years, weakening trust in traditional media and government institutions and eroding the visibility and readership of more credible sources. Reports have also explored the ways in which the policies and algorithms of major platforms—including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok—have contributed to the promotion of misinformation.1
The integrity and reliability of online information has been undermined by the spread of electoral disinformation surrounding both the 2020 and 2022 election cycles (see B5).2 False and misleading information has driven calls to change how elections are administered at the state and local levels. Two election officials in Cochise County, Arizona, refused to certify election results after the 2022 midterms, referencing false claims about voting machines and, separately, false allegations of electoral fraud in Arizona’s Maricopa County that had circulated widely among election denialists online. The Cochise County officials eventually certified the results in December 2022 after a federal judge intervened.3
Research efforts have drawn the connection between online misinformation and weakening public confidence in US elections, as well as weakening trust in government more broadly.4 According to an Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published in July 2023, only 22 percent of Republicans believe that ballots will be accurately tallied in the 2024 presidential election; overall, the poll found that only 44 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of confidence in accurate ballot counts in the next election.5 A poll by the Pearson Institute and the Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found in October 2022 that 73 percent of adults believe misinformation increases extreme political views, 77 percent of respondents say misinformation increases hate crimes, and half of adults say misinformation reduces trust in government.6 An investigation by the website FiveThirtyEight found that election deniers would be listed as candidates on 60 percent of ballots for the 2022 midterms.7
Independent researchers' work on electoral and other misinformation has been hampered by allegations of political bias in platforms’ content moderation practices (see B3). A September 2023 report from the Center for Democracy and Technology identified a “chilling effect” among misinformation researchers that resulted from challenges such as targeted harassment campaigns and politicized investigations by a small number of policymakers.8 For example, in March 2023, Representative Jim Jordan sent letters to researchers at several universities requesting they provide documents about their participation in a purported “censorship regime.”9
The rise of conspiracist content online in the United States is a multiyear trend.10 According to a 2022 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute, nearly one in five Americans believe in QAnon—an online conspiracist movement alleging that key Democrats and other elites are part of an international cabal of pedophiles, and that former president Trump is a heroic leader against these forces of evil.11 Conspiracist content was linked to offline violence during the coverage period: for example, the perpetrator of an October 2022 assault on Paul Pelosi, husband of then House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, was a proponent of QAnon-linked conspiracy theories.12
- 1Paul M. Barrett, “Spreading The Big Lie: How Social Media Sites Have Amplified False Claims of U.S. Election Fraud,” New York University’s Center for Business and Human Rights,” September 2022, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b6df958f8370af3217d4178/t/6321e…; Paul M. Barrett and Justin Hendrix, “A Platform ‘Weaponized’: How YouTube Spreads Harmful Content – And What Can Be Done About It,” June 10, 2022, https://bhr.stern.nyu.edu/blogs/2022/6/10/report-a-platform-weaponized-…; Justin Hendrix, “ Whistleblower Documents Show Problems in Twitter’s Handling of ‘Election Integrity’,” Just Security and Tech Policy Press, August 25, 2022, https://www.justsecurity.org/82838/whistleblower-documents-show-problem…; Elizabeth Dwoskin, “Misinformation on Facebook got six times more clicks than factual news during the 2020 election, study says,” the Washington Post, September 4, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/09/03/facebook-misinform….
- 2Zach Montellaro, “Election officials are on the frontlines of defending democracy. They didn’t sign up for this.” Politico, February 16, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/02/16/elections-officials-disinforma…; Mark Kumleben, Samuel Woolley, and Katie Joseff, “Electoral Confusion: Contending with Structural Disinformation in Communities of Color,” Protect Democracy, June 2022, https://protectdemocracy.org/project/fortifying-vulnerable-communities-….
- 3Charles Homans and Alexandra Berzonm “Arizona County Backs Off Protest, Certifies Election Results,” New York Times, December 1, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/01/us/politics/arizona-county-election-….
- 4Gabriel R. Sanchez Keesha Middlemass, Aila Rodriguez, “Misinformation is eroding the public’s confidence in democracy,” Brookings, July 26, 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2022/07/26/misinformation-is-erod…
- 5Christina A. Cassidy and Linley Sanders, “GOP confidence in 2024 vote count low after years of false election claims, AP-NORC poll shows,” July 11, 2023, AP News, https://apnews.com/article/2024-election-poll-voting-machines-confidenc…
- 6David Klepper, “Poll: Most in US say misinformation spurs extremism, hate,” AP News, October 12, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/religion-crime-social-media-race-and-ethnici…
- 7“60 Percent of Americans Will Have An Election Denier On The Ballot This Fall,” FiveThirtyEight, September 24, 2022, https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/republicans-trump-election-fraud/.
- 8Dean W. Jackson, William T. Adler, Danielle Dougall, and Samir Jain, “Seismic Shifts: How Economic, Technological, and Political Trends are Challenging Independent Counter-Election-Disinformation Initiatives in the United States,” Center for Democracy and Technology, September 21, 2023, https://cdt.org/insights/seismic-shifts-how-economic-technological-and-….
- 9Andrea Bernstein, “Republican Rep. Jim Jordan Issues Sweeping Information Requests to Universities Researching Disinformation,” ProPublica, March 22, 2023, https://www.propublica.org/article/jim-jordan-disinformation-subpoena-u….
- 10Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis, “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online,” Data and Society, May 15, 2017, https://datasociety.net/library/media-manipulation-and-disinfo-online/.
- 11PRRI, “New PRRI Report Reveals Nearly One in Five Americans and One in Four Republicans Still Believe in QAnon Conspiracy Theories,” PRRI, February 24, 2022, https://www.prri.org/press-release/new-prri-report-reveals-nearly-one-i…; Brett Forrest,” What is QAnon? What We Know about the Conspiracy-Theory Group,” The Wall Street Journal, February, 4, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-is-qanon-what-we-know-about-the-consp….; Ethan Zuckerman, “QAnon and the Emergence of the Unreal,” Journal of Design and Science, July 15, 2019, https://jods.mitpress.mit.edu/pub/tliexqdu/release/4.; Giovanni Russonello, “QAnon Now as Popular in U.S. as Some Major Religions, Poll Suggests,” New York Times, August 12, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/27/us/politics/qanon-republicans-trump…
- 12Casey Tolan, Curt Devine, Daniel A. Medina and Majlie de Puy Kamp, “Alleged Paul Pelosi attacker posted multiple conspiracy theories,” CNN, October 28, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/10/28/politics/pelosi-attack-suspect-conspirac….
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||6.006 6.006|
There are no technical or legal restrictions on individuals’ use of digital tools to organize or mobilize for civic activism. However, surveillance of social media and communication platforms, targeted harassment and threats, and high costs and other barriers to internet access have sometimes undermined people’s ability to engage in online activism.
After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision was released in June 2022, many users took to social media to share their personal experiences with abortion and pregnancy, to express their opposition to or support for the decision, and to coordinate civic mobilization.1 During protests against the decision that erupted in major cities across the country, some online journalists reported facing police violence (see C7).
Throughout 2020 and 2021, many Americans organized online protests against racial injustice and to provide support for the Black Lives Matter movement after the police killings of Black civilians Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020.2 Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies increased their social media surveillance amid the protests.3 In April 2023, the Minneapolis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed a lawsuit alleging that the Minneapolis Police Department’s social media surveillance practices during the protests had violated the constitutional rights of Black activists.4
Despite strong constitutional protections for the freedom to assemble, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law has tracked numerous federal and state initiatives aimed at restricting that right from early 2017 to the end of the coverage period, including one Wisconsin legislative proposal, reintroduced in February 2023, that would broadly define incitement to riot and could criminalize legitimate online activity.5
- 1Janay Kingsberry, “Abortion stories are flooding social media after SCOTUS draft leak,” the Washington Post, May 3, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2022/05/03/abortion-stories-so….
- 2Kalhan Rosenblat, “A summer of digital protest: How 2020 became the summer of activism both online and offline,” NBC News, September 26, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/summer-digital-protest-how-2020-be….
- 3Steve Vladeck and Benjamin Wittes, “DHS Authorizes Domestic Surveillance to Protect Statues and Monuments,” Lawfare Blog, July 20, 2020, https://www.lawfareblog.com/dhs-authorizes-domestic-surveillance-protec….
- 4“Minneapolis NAACP sues city over police spying allegations,” AP, April 26, 2023, https://apnews.com/article/george-floyd-minneapolis-police-eca8c1f839d6….
- 5International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, “US Protest Law Tracker,” June 21, 2023, https://www.icnl.org/usprotestlawtracker/
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||6.006 6.006|
The First Amendment of the federal constitution includes protections for free speech and freedom of the press. The Supreme Court has long maintained that online speech has the highest level of constitutional protection.1
In June 2021, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a high school student who was suspended after posting, while not on school grounds, an image on Snapchat that used vulgarities to express frustration with her school and its cheerleading squad.2 The nearly unanimous decision found that the student’s speech was protected under the First Amendment, but the justices acknowledged some leeway for schools to regulate speech when it is genuinely disruptive in order to deal with bullying and related problems.3
A 2017 Supreme Court decision had also reaffirmed the protected status of online speech, arguing that to limit a person’s access to social media “is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights.”4
In February 2023, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that civilians live-streaming police activity were engaging in protected speech (see C3).5 In 2017, other federal courts had upheld the right of bystanders to use their smartphones to record police actions.
In April 2023, the Supreme Court agreed to hear cases on the application of the First Amendment to situations in which social media users are blocked from commenting on the personal social media pages of government officials when those pages are used to communicate about government-related duties.6 The cases would be heard during the court’s 2023–24 term.7
- 1Reno, Attorney General of the United States, et al. vs. American Civil Liberties Union et al, 521 U.S. 844 (1997), https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/96-511.ZS.html.
- 2Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court Rules for Cheerleader Punished for Vulgar Snapchat Message,” The New York Times, June 23, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/23/us/supreme-court-free-speech-cheerle….
- 3Ariane de Vogue, “Cheerleader punished for a Snapchat takes her case to the Supreme Court,” CNN, April 27, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/27/politics/cheerleader-snapchat-supreme-co….
- 4New Jersey State Bar Foundation, ”Access to Social Media Protected by the First Amendment,” May 12, 2020, https://njsbf.org/2020/05/12/access-to-social-media-protected-by-first-….
- 5Opening Brief of Appellant, Dijon Sharpe v. Winterville Police Department, https://www.dropbox.com/s/ri32k106b14blpw/ECF%2018%20-%202021%2011%2003…; Shreya Tewari, “Livestreaming Police is a Critical First Amendment Right,” ACLU, November 22, 2021, https://www.aclu.org/news/free-speech/livestreaming-police-is-a-critica…; Mukund Rathi, “EFF to Federal Appeals Courts: Hold Police Accountable for Violating Civilians’ Right to Record,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, December 13, 2021, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2021/12/eff-federal-appeals-courts-hold-p….
- 6Tierney Sneed, “Supreme Court to decide if First Amendment stops government officials from blocking soicla media critics,” CNN, April 24, 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/04/24/politics/social-media-first-amendment-su…; John Kruzel, “U.S. Supreme Court to decide if public officials can block critics on social media,” Reuters, April 24, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/legal/us-supreme-court-decide-if-public-officia…
- 7Kierra Frazier, “Supreme Court to hear First Amendment cases regarding public officials’ social media accounts,” Politico, April 24, 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/04/24/supreme-court-to-hear-first-am…;
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||2.002 4.004|
Despite significant constitutional safeguards, laws such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) of 1986 have sometimes been used to prosecute online activity and impose harsh punishments. State-level laws also penalize online activity.
Aggressive prosecution under the CFAA has fueled criticism of the law’s scope and application. The act prohibits accessing a computer without authorization, but fails to define the terms “access” or “without authorization,” leaving the provision open to interpretation in the courts.1 Until recently, reform efforts were largely unsuccessful.2 In April 2020, however, a court narrowed the scope of the CFAA by ruling in favor of researchers who were concerned that their work, which involved scraping data from websites, ran afoul of the law.3 The bipartisan draft Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, introduced in June 2023, would protect researchers from CFAA claims, among other reforms to increase researcher access to platform data.4
In June 2021, the Supreme Court further limited the application of the CFAA and clarified the meaning of “unauthorized access.”5 The case, Van Buren v. United States, involved the conviction of a police officer who had accessed police databases for unofficial purposes.6 Following the decision, in April 2022, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in hiQ v. LinkedIn that the CFAA likely does not necessarily bar people from scraping data from a public website, even if the website owner does not consent.7
Certain states have criminal defamation laws in place, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment.8 Among other state-level restrictions, Arizona governor Doug Ducey signed a law in July 2022 that made it a misdemeanor offense to film police from less than eight feet away following a verbal warning.9 A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction stopping enforcement of the law on First Amendment grounds in September 2022; the Arizona legislature subsequently declined to defend the law, letting it lapse.10
- 1Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Reform,” https://www.eff.org/issues/cfaa; Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Amicus Brief for Van Buren v. United States,” January 17, 2020, https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-van-buren-v-united-states.
- 2Kaveh Waddell, “'Aaron's Law' Reintroduced as Lawmakers Wrestle Over Hacking Penalties,” National Journal, April 21, 2015, https://www.nationaljournal.com/s/28177.; Representative Zoe Lofgren, Official Website, “Rep Zoe Lofgren Introduces Bipartisan Aaron’s Law,” June 20, 2013, https://lofgren.house.gov/media/press-releases/rep-zoe-lofgren-introduc….; The Economist, “Deadly Silence: Aaron Swartz and MIT,” August 3, 2013, https://www.economist.com/international/2013/08/03/deadly-silence.
- 3Eric Goldman, “Another Court Significantly Limits the Scope of Criminal CFAA-Sandvig v. Barr,” Technology & Marketing Blog, April 14, 2020, https://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2020/04/another-court-significant…; Naomi Gilens and Jamie Williams, “Federal Judge Rules It Is Not a Crime to Violate a Website’s Terms of Service,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, April 6, 2020, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/04/federal-judge-rules-it-not-crime-….
- 4S.1876 - Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, Congress.gov, https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/senate-bill/1876.
- 5Orin Kerr, “The Supreme Court Reins In the CFAA in Van Buren,” Lawfare Blog, June 9, 2021, https://www.lawfareblog.com/supreme-court-reins-cfaa-van-buren.
- 6Supreme Court of the United States, “Nathan Van Buren, Petitioner, V. United States,” December 18, 2019, https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=/docket/docketfiles/h…; Lawrence Bluestone, “Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Scope of Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” JD Supra, April 25, 2020, https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/supreme-court-agrees-to-decide-scope-…; Joseph Marks, “The Cybersecurity 202: There’s Finally a Supreme Court Battle Coming Over the Nation’s Main Hacking Law,” The Washington Post, April 24, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-cybersecurity-….
- 7Andrew Crocker, ”Scraping Public Websites (Still) Isn’t a Crime, Court of Appeals Declares," Electronic Frontier Foundation, April 19, 2022, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/04/scraping-public-websites-still-is….
- 8American Civil Liberties Union, “Map of States with Criminal Laws Against Defamation,” 2020, https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/map-states-criminal-laws-agains…; Conor Friedersdorf, “The ACLU Takes Aim at Criminal-Defamation Laws,” The Atlantic, December 18, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/aclu-test-case-takes-….
- 9Lindsey Bever, “New Arizona law criminalizes filming police from less than 8 feet away,” The Washington Post, July 8, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/07/08/arizona-police-recordi….
- 10The Associated Press, “Federal judge blocks Arizona law limiting filming of police,” September 10, 2022, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/arizona-legislature-wont-defend-l…; Bob Christie, “Arizona Legislature won’t defend law limiting police filming after federal judge block,” September 16, 2022, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/arizona-legislature-wont-defend-l…
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||4.004 6.006|
Prosecutions or detentions for online activities are neither frequent nor systematic. However, local police have investigated, arrested, and charged users for some actions. For instance, people using their mobile devices or social media accounts to document law enforcement activity have been temporarily detained; most face charges such as obstruction or resisting arrest. Due to strong legal protections for free expression, such cases are often dropped by prosecutors.
Several cases in which people were arrested in relation to their online activities proceeded through the courts during the coverage period. In March 2023, New Hampshire resident Robert Frese filed a petition with the Supreme Court in a civil suit over the state’s criminal defamation law, under which Frese had been arrested in 2018 for making disparaging online comments about a local police officer.1 In February 2023, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in a lawsuit brought by Facebook user Anthony Novak, who argued that his 2016 arrest, for creating a page that parodied the local police department, had violated constitutional protections against censorship and unreasonable searches and seizures. A federal judge and an appellate court both ruled that the police officers’ conduct was protected under the controversial qualified immunity standard.2
Online journalists have been investigated, arrested, or charged while covering protests. During protests in support of the right to abortion following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June 2022, a few online journalists were temporarily detained by police, including a correspondent for the conservative news site El American.3 In April 2022, during the previous coverage period, an independent online photojournalist in Los Angeles was arrested and charged with ignoring police orders while documenting protests against a fatal police shooting.4
Online news outlets face other limits on their work. In October 2022, authorities in Pike County, Ohio, filed wiretapping charges against Derek Myers, editor in chief of the Scioto Valley Guardian news site. The Guardian had published the contents of a leaked audio recording of a murder trial in an article written by Myers; Myers was not present in the courtroom and did not record the audio. He was released on bail. Law enforcement also confiscated equipment belonging to Myers and the outlet, reportedly under an expired warrant.5 In April 2023, a magistrate convicted journalists Matilda Bliss and Veronica Coit of the news site Asheville Blade of trespassing; they had been arrested in December 2021 while covering police evictions of homeless people from an encampment in Asheville, North Carolina. Bliss and Coit appealed to a jury trial, which affirmed the conviction in June.6 The Wausau Pilot & Review, a Wisconsin news site, reported that it incurred prohibitive costs in defending against a defamation suit filed by a local businessman who objected to the outlet’s allegations that he had used a homophobic slur against a 13-year-old boy. A judge threw out the suit in April 2023.7
In May 2023, federal agents raided the home of Timothy Burke, a freelance online journalist, and seized his equipment. Subsequent disclosures indicated that the government planned to prosecute Burke for violating the CFAA and federal wiretapping laws; he had reportedly obtained unaired Fox News clips and shared them with the news outlet Vice News and the civil society organization Media Matters for America, but he argued that no hacking was involved.8
At times, officials have attempted to use legal cases to identify anonymous critics on the internet. In January 2023, the city of Beachwood, Ohio, sought to use a defamation lawsuit to identify an anonymous online critic; a judge dismissed the lawsuit in April 2023 on First Amendment grounds.9
- 1Patrick Cronin, “Exeter man arrested for 'dirty cop' post takes defamation challenge to U.S. Supreme Court,” Seacostonline, March 24, 2023, https://www.seacoastonline.com/story/news/local/2023/03/24/nh-man-arres….
- 2Lawrence Hurley, “Supreme Court rejects Ohio man’s bid to sue police over arrest for Facebook parody,” NBC, February 21, 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/supreme-court-rejects-oh….
- 3“Journalist detained in kettle while documenting reproductive rights protests in LA,” U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, June 24, 2022, https://pressfreedomtracker.us/all-incidents/journalist-detained-in-ket….
- 4”Social media journalists arrested during San Clemente protest, held overnight,” U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, April 23, 2022, https://pressfreedomtracker.us/all-incidents/social-media-journalist-ar…
- 5“CPJ alarmed by wiretapping charges against Ohio newspaper editor,” Committee to Protect Journalists, November 8, 2022, https://cpj.org/2022/11/cpj-alarmed-by-wiretapping-charges-against-ohio…; “Guardian’s editor charged with wiretapping after writing story on Wagner trial,” Scioto Valley Guardian, November 3, 2022, https://sciotovalleyguardian.com/2022/11/01/guardians-editor-charged-wi….
- 6Asheville Journalist Letter, May 3, 2023, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/23796170-asheville-journalist-l…; “Press freedom and civil liberties orgs condemn conviction of Asheville journalists,” Freedom of the Press Foundation, June 16, 2023, https://freedom.press/news/press-freedom-and-civil-liberties-orgs-conde….
- 7Jeremy W. Peters, “Report on Anti-Gay Slur Could Put Local News Site Out of Business,” New York Times, August 15, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/15/business/media/antigay-slur-wausau-p….
- 8Kim Zetter, “Did a Journalist Violate Hacking Law to Leak Fox News Clips? The Government Thinks He Did,” Zero Day, August 17, 2023, https://zetter.substack.com/p/did-a-journalist-violate-hacking.
- 9Cory Shaffer, “Beachwood, police chief file defamation lawsuit to find out who has been anonymously criticizing her,” January 12, 2023, Cleveland.com, https://www.cleveland.com/court-justice/2023/01/beachwood-police-chief-… ; Cory Shaffer, “Judge rejects Beachwood police chief’s effort to unmask anonymous online critics,” Cleveland.com, April 21, 2023, https://www.cleveland.com/court-justice/2023/04/judge-rejects-beachwood….
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||3.003 4.004|
There are no federal laws restricting anonymity on the internet, as the constitution protects the right to anonymous speech in many contexts. At least one state law that stipulates journalists’ right to withhold the identities of anonymous sources has been found to apply to bloggers.1
Online anonymity has been challenged in cases involving hate speech, defamation, and libel. In 2015, a Virginia court tried to compel the customer-review platform Yelp to reveal the identities of anonymous users, but the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the company did not have the authority to do so.2 In 2019, a federal court ruled that Reddit did not need to reveal the identity of one of its users to a plaintiff who was suing for copyright infringement.3
Laws at the state level have also weakened online anonymity. For instance, state-level child safety laws passed during or after the coverage period—including in California in September 2022,4 Arkansas in April 2023,5 Utah in May 2023,6 and Texas in June 20237 —would require covered platforms to employ age-verification technology to ensure that young people do not access their services without parental consent; the Arkansas law specifically mandates the use of third-party age-verification services.8 Civil society organizations have criticized such measures, which generally require people to provide a government-issued identity document, for undermining anonymity and exposing private information to potential misuse or theft.9
No legal limitations apply to the use of encryption, but both the executive and legislative branches have at times moved to challenge the technology.10 In 2020, the Justice Department issued a joint statement with the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, and Japan, calling on Facebook and other tech companies to help enable government access to encrypted messages.11
The proposed EARN IT Act was reintroduced in Congress in April 2023 despite strong opposition from civil society organizations, which argued that the bill threatened the privacy and security of all users by discouraging end-to-end encryption.12 Similarly, civil society organizations have warned that the draft STOP CSAM Act, introduced in April 2023 and amended in May, would incentivize platforms to avoid end-to-end encryption by expanding the scope for civil liability (see B3).13
The degree to which courts can force technology companies to alter their products and enable government access is unclear. The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) of 1994 requires telephone companies, broadband providers, and interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers to design their systems so that communications can be easily intercepted when government agencies have legal authority to do so, although it does not cover online communication tools such as Gmail, Skype, and Facebook.14
Federal law enforcement agencies sought to compel Apple to unlock the encrypted smartphones of alleged perpetrators following a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, in 2015,15 and an attack on a Navy facility in Florida in 2019.16 In both cases Apple resisted, and agents gained access by other means. A federal judge ruled in 2016 that CALEA did not allow the government to compel Apple to unlock an iPhone.17
- 1Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Apple v. Does,” http://www.eff.org/cases/apple-v-does.
- 2Justin Jouvenal, “Yelp won’t have to turn over names of anonymous users after court ruling” The Washington Post, April 16, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/yelp-wont-have-to-turn-over-….
- 3Victoria Song, “Court Rules Redditor Can Stay Anonymous in Significant Copyright Case,” Gizmodo, April 23, 2019, https://gizmodo.com/court-rules-redditor-can-stay-anonymous-in-signific….
- 4“Four Key Considerations for Implementing the California Age-Appropriate Design Code,” Perkins Coie, March 30, 2023, https://www.perkinscoie.com/en/news-insights/four-key-considerations-fo….
- 5SB 396, Arkansas State Legislature, 94th General Assembly, 2023, https://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/Bills/Detail?id=SB396&ddBienniumSession=….
- 6SB 152, Utah State Legislature, 2023, https://le.utah.gov/~2023/bills/static/SB0152.html.
- 7HB 18, Texas State Legislature, 2023, https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=88R&Bill=HB18.
- 8Kyooeun Jang, Lulia Pan, and Nicol Turner Lee, “The fragmentation of online child safety regulations,” Brookings Institute, August 14, 2023, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/patchwork-protection-of-minors/.
- 9Jason Kelely and Adam Schwartz, “Age Verification Mandates Would Undermine Anonymity Online,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, March 10, 2023, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2023/03/age-verification-mandates-would-u…
- 10The United States Department of Justice, “Attorney General William P. Barr Delivers Keynote Address at the International Conference on Cyber Security,” July 23, 2019, https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/attorney-general-william-p-barr-deli….
- 11Barry Collins, “Mission Impossible: 7 Countries Tell Facebook to Break Encryption,” Forbes, October 11, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/barrycollins/2020/10/11/mission-impossible….; Sam Shead, “U.S., U.K. and other countries warn tech firms that encryption creates ‘severe risks’ to public safety,” CNBC, October 12, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/12/five-eyes-warn-tech-firms-that-encrypti….
- 12India McKinney, “EFF to Congress: Oppose the EARN IT Act and the STOP CSAM Act,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 2, 2023, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2023/05/eff-letter-congress-oppose-earn-i…
- 13Sophia Cope and Andrew Crocker, “The STOP CSAM Act: Improved But Still Problematic,” May 10, 2023, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2023/05/stop-csam-act-improved-still-prob….
- 14Charlie Savage, “U.S. Tries to Make it Easier to Wiretap the Internet,” The New York Times, September 27, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/us/27wiretap.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0; Declan McCullagh, “FBI: We Need Wiretap-Ready Websites – Now,” CNET, May 4, 2012, https://www.cnet.com/news/fbi-we-need-wiretap-ready-web-sites-now/.
- 15Ellen Nakashima and Reed Albergotti, “The FBI wanted to unlock the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone. It turned to a little-known Australian firm” The Washington Post, April 14, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/04/14/azimuth-san-bernar….; Julia Angwin, “What’s Really at Stake in the Apple Encryption Debate,” ProPublica, February 24, 2016, https://www.propublica.org/article/whats-really-at-stake-in-the-apple-e….
- 16Eric Geller, “Apple Rebukes DOJ Over Pensacola iPhone Encryption Battle,” Politico, January 14, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/01/14/apple-rebukes-doj-over-pensaco….
- 17Robert Chesney, “A Primer on Apple’s Brief in the San Bernadino iPhone Fight,” Lawfare, February 26, 2016, https://www.lawfareblog.com/primer-apples-brief-san-bernadino-iphone-fi…; Robert Chesney, “Apple v. FBI Primer #2: On Judge Orenstein’s Ruling in the Queen’s Meth Case,” Lawfare, March 1, 2016, https://www.lawfareblog.com/apple-v-fbi-primer-2-judge-orensteins-rulin….
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||2.002 6.006|
The legal framework for government surveillance in the United States is open to abuse, and authorities have engaged in certain forms of monitoring, particularly on social media, with minimal oversight or transparency. The government’s search and seizure powers are generally limited by the constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
Laws governing foreign intelligence surveillance have in practice permitted the collection of data on US citizens and residents. Such surveillance is regulated in part by the USA PATRIOT Act, which was passed following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.1 In 2015, then president Obama signed the USA FREEDOM Act, which extended expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act, including broad authority for intelligence officials to obtain warrants for roving wiretaps of unnamed “John Doe” targets and surveillance of lone individuals with no evident connection to terrorist groups or foreign powers.2 At the same time, the new legislation was meant to end the government’s bulk collection of domestic call detail records (CDRs)—the metadata associated with telephone interactions—under Section 215 of the 2001 law. The bulk collection program, detailed in documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden in 2013,3 had been ruled illegal by the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals earlier in 2015.4 Despite that year’s reforms, mass collection of CDRs reportedly continued, and the NSA recommended that Section 215 be allowed to expire, which it did in 2020.5 However, a “savings clause” allowed officials to continue using the authority for investigations that had begun before the expiration, or for new examinations of incidents that occurred before that date.6
Under the USA FREEDOM Act, the NSA—which focuses on foreign intelligence collection—is permitted to access US call records held by phone companies after obtaining an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, also called the FISA Court in reference to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.7 Requests for such access require use of a “specific selection term” (SST) representing an “individual, account, or personal device” that is suspected of being associated with a foreign power or international terrorist activity;8 this mechanism is intended to prevent broad requests for records based on an area code or other imprecise indicators. The definitions of SSTs vary, however, depending on the authority used, and civil liberties advocates have criticized them as excessively broad.9
The USA FREEDOM Act requires the FISA Court to appoint an amicus curiae in any case that “presents a novel or significant interpretation of the law,” so that judges are not forced to rely on the arguments of the government alone in weighing requests. However, the court can waive the requirement at its discretion. The panel of amici curiae includes experts on privacy, civil liberties, and communications technology.10 Five people are currently designated to serve.11
Other components of the US legal framework allow surveillance by intelligence agencies, but often without adequate oversight, specificity, and transparency. Section 702, adopted in 2008 as part of the FISA Amendments Act, authorizes the NSA, acting inside the United States, to collect the communications of any foreigner overseas as long as a significant purpose of the collection is to obtain “foreign intelligence,” a term broadly defined to include any information that “relates to … the conduct of the foreign affairs of the United States.”12 Section 702 surveillance involves both “downstream” collection, in which stored communications data—including content—are obtained from US technology companies, and “upstream” collection, in which the NSA collects users’ communications as they are in transit over the internet backbone.13 Although Section 702 only authorizes the collection of information pertaining to foreign citizens outside the United States, the communications of US citizens and residents are inevitably swept up in this process in large amounts, and these too are stored in a searchable database.14 Under a 2018 reauthorization of Section 702, FBI agents must obtain a warrant to review the content of communications belonging to an American who is already the subject of a criminal investigation; the warrant requirement was so narrow as to exclude the majority of queries.15 The reauthorization also imposed additional transparency measures relating to the authority.16
Section 702 was scheduled to expire on December 31, 2023. The House Intelligence Committee established a bipartisan working group on Section 702 in March 2023,17 but it had not publicly disclosed its recommendations as of August. The White House expressed support for a renewal of the authority.18
The Section 702 protocols intended to limit official access to the communications of US citizens and residents are frequently violated. In the period from December 2021 to November 2022, FBI agents queried the Section 702 database for information about US citizens and residents more than 200,000 times, according to government disclosures.19 In July 2023, the FISA Court released an opinion indicating that officials had improperly searched the Section 702 database using the last names of an unidentified US senator and a state senator in June 2022, and the social security number of a state judge in October 2022.20 In May 2023, the FISA Court released an opinion documenting thousands of improper searches of communications data by the FBI, including noncompliant queries for the communications of people who joined the 2020 racial justice protests, participants in the January 2021 attack on the Capitol, and 19,000 donors to an unidentified congressional campaign.21 Republican congressman Darin LaHood reported in March 2023 that he had been targeted by improper searches of the Section 702 database in 2020 or earlier.22
Previously, in October 2019, the FISA Court released three opinions in which it found that the communications data of tens of thousands of US citizens and residents had been subjected to improper searches by the FBI.23 The court also determined that the FBI had violated the law by not reporting the number of times it conducted “US person queries.”24 A subset of these violations have been linked to the NSA’s collection of communications when they merely mentioned information relating to a foreign surveillance target (referred to as “about” collection), which the agency halted in 2017.25
Under Title I of FISA,26 the Justice Department may obtain a court order to conduct surveillance of Americans or foreigners inside the United States if it can show probable cause to suspect that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. In March 2020, the department’s inspector general released a memorandum documenting pervasive errors in previous FISA applications, along with a failure to abide by internal procedures meant to ensure their accuracy.27
Originally issued in 1981, Executive Order (EO) 12333 is the primary authority under which US intelligence agencies gather foreign intelligence; essentially, it governs all such collection that is not governed by FISA, and it includes most collection that takes place overseas. The extent of current NSA practices that are authorized under EO 12333 is unclear and potentially overlaps with other surveillance authorizations.28 Although EO 12333 cannot be used to target a “particular, known” US person, the very fact that bulk collection is permissible under the order ensures that the communications of US citizens and residents will be incidentally collected, and likely in very significant quantities. Moreover, questions linger as to whether the government relies on EO 12333 to conduct any surveillance inside the United States that would not be subject to judicial oversight.29 A letter from two senators that was made public in February 2022 revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) secretly conducted bulk data collection, authorized under EO 12333, in a manner that implicated US people and with no congressional oversight. Senators Wyden and Martin Heinrich have called for more transparency regarding the kind of records that are stored and the legal framework under which they were collected.30
In criminal probes, law enforcement authorities can monitor the content of internet communications in real time only if they have obtained an order issued by a judge, under a standard that is somewhat higher than the one established under the constitution for searches of physical places. The order must reflect a finding that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed.
Access to metadata for law enforcement, as opposed to intelligence, generally requires a subpoena issued by a prosecutor or investigator without judicial approval.31 Judicial warrants are only required in California under the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA).32
According to one ruling in federal court, law enforcement officials must obtain a judicial warrant to access stored communications.33 However, the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) states that the government can obtain access to email or other documents stored in the cloud with a subpoena, subject to certain conditions.34
Federal authorities claim to have much greater leeway to conduct searches without a warrant in “border zones”—defined as up to 100 miles from any land or sea border, an area encompassing about 200 million residents.35 Under Directive No. 3340-049a of 2018, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) asserts broad powers to conduct device searches and claims the authority to require travelers to provide their device passwords to CBP personnel.36 Courts remain split on the legality of the searches, however.37 In May 2023, a federal court in New York ruled in favor of a warrant requirement for manual device searches at the border,38 whereas in February 2021, a federal appeals court in Boston had found the practice constitutional.39
CBP reported over 41,000 electronic device searches during the coverage period.40 In September 2022, the Washington Post reported on a letter Senator Wyden sent to CBP that revealed how information collected through these searches—including contact lists, call logs, photos, and messages—is collated into a searchable database called the Automated Targeting System and made accessible to CBP personnel without a warrant.41
There have been concerns about federal, state, and local government agencies’ use of more targeted surveillance tools. To limit the use of spyware in the United States, the Biden administration issued an executive order in March 2023 that bars federal agencies from the “operational” use of commercial spyware products that could be employed by foreign governments to violate human rights or target people from the United States, or otherwise present national security risks.42 Prior to that order, the New York Times reported in December 2022 that the Drug Enforcement Administration had purchased and deployed Graphite, a spyware tool produced by the Israeli company Paragon, in its foreign operations, though it was not clear whether Graphite was used to target Americans.43 In January 2022, a New York Times investigation revealed that the FBI had purchased and tested Pegasus spyware, a notorious surveillance product developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group, though there was no evidence that the tool had been deployed against people in the United States.44
Several government entities, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), have purchased extraction technology from companies like the Israeli firm Cellebrite that allow officials to extract information stored on a device or online within seconds.45 An October 2020 report from the nonprofit UpTurn revealed that more than 2,000 state and local law enforcement agencies also had such technology.46 In February 2022, the Intercept reported that all but one of the 15 US cabinet departments had Cellebrite products, including departments and agencies that had little association with intelligence collection, such as the Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.47
Federal, state, and local law enforcement bodies have access to a range of advanced tools for monitoring social media platforms and sharing the information they collect with other agencies,48 without clear oversight or safeguards for individual rights.49 For example, emails obtained by the Intercept indicate that the US Marshals Service used services from Dataminr, a social media monitoring company, to track protests related to the Dobbs decision from May to July 2022.50 In October 2022, Senator Wyden disclosed that DHS had compiled profiles of people active in Portland, Oregon, protests that included their social media activity, lists of family members and friends, and travel history, despite their posing “no threat to homeland security.”51 Local police have also created fake social media accounts to infiltrate users’ networks and gain access to more personal information.52 In September 2023, the Brennan Center for Justice released DHS documents that pointed to the routine use of fake social media accounts by CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).53
In 2019, the Department of State enacted a new policy that vastly expanded its collection of social media information.54 It required people applying for a US visa, numbering about 15 million each year, to provide their social media user names, their email addresses, and their phone numbers going back five years.55 In February 2022, DHS and CBP proposed requiring applicants for entry under the Visa Waiver Program to provide their social media handles.56 404 Media reported in August 2023 that CBP had purchased software from a company that purports to sell emotion-recognition technology, for use in screening travelers’ social media accounts.57
Dozens of law enforcement agencies have access to cell-site simulators or IMSI (international mobile device subscriber identity) catchers—commonly known as “stingrays” after a prominent brand name—that mimic mobile network towers and cause nearby phones to send identifying information; the technology enables police to track targeted phones or determine the phone numbers of people in a given area. As of 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had identified 75 agencies across the country that used such systems.58 Several courts have affirmed that police must obtain a warrant before employing stingray technology.59 In February 2023, the DHS Office of the Inspector General found that the US Secret Service and ICE had failed to follow federal policies, including privacy statutes, when using stingrays.60
In September 2022, the Associated Press reported on the extent to which local police have access to Fog Reveal, a subscription product that collects and analyzes huge amounts of commercially available location data generated by mobile applications.61
- 1The New York Times Editorial, “Patriot Act Excesses,” October 7, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/opinion/08thu1.html.
- 2The Washington Post, “USA Freedom Act: What’s in, what’s out,” June 2, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/usa-freedom-act/.
- 3Glenn Greenwald, “NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily,” The Guardian, June 6, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/nsa-phone-records-verizon-c….
- 4Marty Lederman, “[UPDATED with details and analysis] BREAKING: Second Circuit rules that Section 215 does not authorize telephony bulk collection program,” Just Security, May 7, 2015, https://www.justsecurity.org/22799/breaking-circuit-rules-section-215-a….
- 5Section 215 is set to expire in December 2019; Robert Chesney, “Three FISA Authorities Sunset in December: Here’s What You Need to Know,” Lawfare, January 16, 2019, https://www.lawfareblog.com/three-fisa-authorities-sunset-december-here…; India McKinney & Andrew Crocker, “Yes, Section 215 Expired. Now What?” Electronic Frontier Foundation, April 16, 2020, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/04/yes-section-215-expired-now-what; India McKinney, “Section 215 Expired: Year in Review 2020,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, December 29, 2020, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/12/section-215-expired-year-review-2….
- 6Charlie Savage, “House Departs Without Vote to Extend Expired F.B.I. Spy Tools,” The New York Times, March 27, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/27/us/politics/house-fisa-bill.html.
- 7Aarti Shahani, “Phone Carriers Are Tight-Lipped On How They Will Comply With New Surveillance Law,” NPR, June 4, 2015, http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/06/04/411870819/phon….
- 8Rainey Reitman, “The New USA Freedom Act: A Step in the Right Direction, but More Must Be Done,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, April 30, 2015, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/04/new-usa-freedom-act-step-right-di….
- 9Elizabeth Goitein, “Statement of Elizabeth Goitein before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Hearin on Reauthorizing the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015,” November 6, 2019, https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Goitein%20Testimony.pdf.
- 10114th Congress, H.R. 2048 USA FREEDOM Act of 2015, Sec. 401, Public Law No: 114-23, June 2, 2015, https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/2048/text.
- 11United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, “Amici Curiae,” http://www.fisc.uscourts.gov/amici-curiae.
- 1250 U.S.C. 1801(e)(2).
- 13Brett Max Kaufman, “A Guide to What We Know About the NSA’s Dragnet Searches of Your Communications,” ACLU, August 9, 2013, https://www.aclu.org/blog/guide-what-we-now-know-about-nsas-dragnet-sea….
- 14Dia Kayyali, “The Way the NSA Uses Section 702 is Deeply Troubling. Here’s Why.” Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 7, 2014, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/05/way-nsa-uses-section-702-deeply-t….
- 15Charlie Savage, “Congress Approves Six-Year Extension of Surveillance Law,” The New York Times, January 18, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/us/politics/surveillance-congress-sn….
- 16Michelle Richardson, “FISA 702: What Happened and What’s Next,” Center for Democracy and Technology, February 5, 2018, https://cdt.org/blog/fisa-702-what-happened-and-whats-next/.
- 17Ryan Tarinelli, “Congress starts work on renewal of controversial surveillance law,” Rollcall, April 27, 2023, https://rollcall.com/2023/04/27/congress-starts-work-on-renewal-of-cont…
- 18John Sakellardias, “White House provides new details on use of surveillance tool ahead of Senate hearing,” Politico, June 13, 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/06/13/section-702-senate-judiciary-h….
- 19Annual Statistical Transparency Report, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, April 2023, https://www.dni.gov/files/CLPT/documents/2023_ASTR_for_CY2022.pdf
- 20FISA Section 702 Memorandum Opinion and Order, Apil 11, 2023, released July 21, 2023, https://www.intel.gov/assets/documents/702%20Documents/declassified/202….
- 21FISC Memorandum Opinion and Order, April 21, 2022, released May 19, 2023, https://www.intelligence.gov/assets/documents/702%20Documents/declassif….
- 22Darin LaHood, “LaHood Addresses Violations and a Need for FISA Reform,” March 9, 2023, https://lahood.house.gov/news?ID=19960895-1C47-48B3-A586-EBCBD6549017.
- 23United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, “Document Regarding the Section 702 2018 Certification,” October 18, 2018, https://www.intel.gov/assets/documents/702%20Documents/declassified/201…; United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, “Document Regarding the Section 702 2018 Certification,” July 12, 2019, https://www.intel.gov/assets/documents/702%20Documents/declassified/201…; United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, “Document Regarding the Section 702 Certification, September 4, 2019, https://www.intel.gov/assets/documents/702%20Documents/declassified/201….
- 24Elizabeth Goitein, “The FISA Court’s Section 702 Opinions , Part I: A History of Non-Compliance Repeats Itself,” Just Security, 2019, https://www.justsecurity.org/66595/the-fisa-courts-702-opinions-part-i-…; Elizabeth Goitein, “The FISA Court’s Section 702 Opinions, Part II: Improper Queries and Echoes of ‘Bulk Collection,’” Just Security, 2019, https://www.justsecurity.org/66605/the-fisa-courts-section-702-opinions….
- 25Charlie Savage, “NSA Halts Collection of Americans’ Emails about Foreign Targets,” New York Times, April 28, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/28/us/politics/nsa-surveillance-terrori….
- 2650 U.S.C. 1805.
- 27Office of the Inspector General,” Management Advisory Memorandum for the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Regarding the Execution of Woods Procedures for Applications Filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Relating to U.S. Persons,” U.S. Department of Justice, March 2020, https://oig.justice.gov/sites/default/files/reports/a20047.pdf; Office of the Inspector General, “Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation,” U.S. Department of Justice, December 2019, https://www.justice.gov/storage/120919-examination.pdf.
- 28Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani, “NSA surveillance program reaches ‘into the past’ to retrieve, replay phone calls,” The Washington Post, March 18, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-surveillance…; Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, “The NSA is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas,” The Intercept, May 19, 2014, https://theintercept.com/2014/05/19/data-pirates-caribbean-nsa-recordin…; Human Rights Watch, “U.S.: New Evidence Suggests Monitoring of Americans,” October 25, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/25/us-new-evidence-suggests-monitoring….
- 29Human Rights Watch, “U.S.: New Evidence Suggests Monitoring of Americans,” October 25, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/25/us-new-evidence-suggests-monitoring….
- 30Office of United States Senator for Oregon Ron Wyden, “Wyden and Heinrich: Newly Declassified Documents Reveal Previously Secret CIA Bulk Collection, Problems With CIA Handling of Americans’ Information,” February 10, 2022, https://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/wyden-and-heinrich-new…; Charlie Savage, “CIA is Collecting in Bulk Certain Data Affecting Americans, Senators Warn,” The New York Times, February 10, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/10/us/politics/cia-data-privacy.html.
- 31Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Mandatory Data Retention: United States,” https://www.eff.org/issues/mandatory-data-retention/us; Shayana Kadidal (Center for Constitutional Rights), “Surveillance After the USA Freedom Act: How Much Has Changed?,” Huffington Post, December 17, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-center-for-constitutional-rights/surv….
- 32American Civil Liberties Union Northern California, “California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA) - SB 178,” April 2018, https://www.aclunc.org/our-work/legislation/calecpa; Kim Zetter, “California now has the Nation’s best digital privacy law,” Wired, October 8, 2015, https://www.wired.com/2015/10/california-now-nations-best-digital-priva….
- 33United States v. Warshak, 09-3176, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, https://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/10a0377p-06.pdf.
- 34United States v. Warshak, 09-3176, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, https://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/10a0377p-06.pdf.
- 35ACLU, ”The Constitution in the 100-Mile Border Zone,” https://www.aclu.org/other/constitution-100-mile-border-zone.
- 36U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “Border Search of Electronic Devices,” January 4, 2018, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/CBP%20Directive%20…; Seth Harp, “I’m a Journalist But I Didn’t Fully Realize the Terrible Power of U.S. Border Officials Until they Violated My Rights and Privacy,” The Intercept, June 22, 2019, https://theintercept.com/2019/06/22/cbp-border-searches-journalists/; Matthew Feeney, “Examining Warrantless Smartphone Searches at the Border,” Cato Institute, July 11, 2018, https://www.cato.org/publications/testimony/examining-warrantless-smart….
- 37Gina R. Bohannon, “Cell Phones and the Border Search Exception: Circuits Split over the Line Between Sovereignty and Privacy,” Maryland Law Review, Volume 78, Issue 3, 2019, https://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=38….
- 38Sophia Cope, “Federal Judge Makes History in Holding That Border Searches of Cell Phones Require a Warrant,” EFF, May 30, 2023, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2023/05/federal-judge-makes-history-holdi….
- 39Andrea Vittorio, “Warrantless Digital Device Searches at U.S. Border Ruled Valid (2),” Bloomberg Law, February 10, 2021, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/warrantless-digital-device-se….
- 40U.S. Customs and Border Protection,“ CBP Enforcement Statistics Fiscal Year 2023,” Accessed May, 2023, https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/cbp-enforcement-statistics.
- 41Drew Harwell, “Customs officials have copied Americans’ phone data at massive scale,” the Washington Post, September 15, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/09/15/government-surveil….
- 42Executive Order on Prohibition on Use by the United States Government of Commercial Spyware that Poses Risks to National Security, March 27, 2023, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2023/03/2…
- 43Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman and Matina Stevis-Gridneff, “How the Global Spyware Industry Spiraled Out of Control,” New York Times, December 8, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/08/us/politics/spyware-nso-pegasus-para….
- 44Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti, “The Battle for the World’s Most Powerful Cyberweapon,” New York Times Magazine, January 28, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/28/magazine/nso-group-israel-spyware.ht….
- 45Jake Montgomery, “ICE Has a New $30M Contract with Isreali Phone Cracking Company Cellebrite,” The Daily Beast, September 11, 2019, https://www.thedailybeast.com/ice-has-a-new-dollar30m-contract-with-isr….
- 46Logan Koepke, Emma Weil, and Urmila Janardan, “Mass Extraction: The Widespread Power of U.S. Law Enforcement to Search Mobile Phones,” Upturn, October, 2020, https://www.upturn.org/reports/2020/mass-extraction/; Kristina Davis, “Returning from travel abroad? A court put limits on border officers rummaging through your phone,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 24, 2021, https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/courts/story/2021-07-24/court….
- 47Mara Hviestendahl and Sam Biddle, “Use of Controversial Phone-Cracking Tool is Spreading Across Federal Government,” February 8, 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/02/08/cellebrite-phone-hacking-government….
- 48Michael Kwet, “ShadowDragon: Inside the Social Media Surveillance Software That Can Watch Your Every Move,” The Intercept, September 21, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/09/21/surveillance-social-media-police-mi…
- 49Faisa Patel, Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Raya Koreh, and Sophia DenUyl, “Social Media Monitoring,” The Brennan Center, May 22, 2019, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/social-media-mo…; Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology, “The Color of Surveillance,” 2019, https://www.law.georgetown.edu/privacy-technology-center/events/color-o….
- 50Sam Biddle, “U.S. Marshals Spied on Abortion Protesters Using Dataminr,” The Intercept, May 15, 2023, https://theintercept.com/2023/05/15/abortion-surveillance-dataminr/.
- 51“Wyden Releases New Details About Surveillance and Interrogation of Portland Demonstrators by Department of Homeland Security Agents,” Senator Ron Wyden, October 27, 2022, https://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/wyden-releases-new-det….
- 52Mara Hvistendahl, “FBI provides Chicago police with fake online identities for “social media exploitation” team,” The Intercept, May 20, 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/05/20/chicago-police-fbi-social-media-sur…; Morgan Gstalter, “Memphis police accused of making fake social media accounts to spy on Black Lives Matter,” The Hill, August 2, 2018, https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/400064-memphis-police….
- 53José Guillermo Gutiérrez and Rachel Levinson-Waldman, “Documents Reveal Widespread Use of Fake Social Media Accounts by DHS,” Brennan Center for Justice, September 5, 2023, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/documents-revea….
- 54Sandra E. Garcia, “U.S. Requiring Social Media Information From Visa Applicants,” The New York Times, June 2, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/02/us/us-visa-application-social-media….
- 55“US now seeking social media details from all visa applicants,” Associated Press News, June 1, 2019, https://apnews.com/article/media-immigration-social-platforms-internati….
- 56Anna Diakun and Carrie DeCell, “Why is the U.S. still probing foreign visitors’ social media accounts?” The Washington Post, April, 26, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/04/26/social-media-surveill…; Carrie Decell,“ Biden Administration Continues to Defend Social Media Registration Requirement in Court,” Knight First Amendment Institute, May 28, 2021, https://knightcolumbia.org/blog/biden-administration-continues-to-defen…
- 57Joseph Cox, “The A.I. Surveillance Tool DHS Uses to Detect ‘Sentiment and Emotion’,” 404 Media, August 24, 2023, https://www.404media.co/ai-surveillance-tool-dhs-cbp-sentiment-emotion-….
- 58American Civil Liberties Union, “Stingray Tracking Devices: Who’s Got Them?” https://www.aclu.org/issues/privacy-technology/surveillance-technologie….
- 59Tom Jackman, “Police use of ‘StingRay’ cellphone tracker requires search warrant, appeals court rules,” The Washington Post, September 21, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp/2017/09/21/police-use….
- 60Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “Secret Service and ICE Did Not Always Adhere to Statute and Policies Governing Use of Cell-Site Simulators (REDACTED),” February 23, 2023, https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2023-03/OIG-23-17-Fe…
- 61Garance Burke and Jason Dearen, “Tech tool offers police ‘mass surveillance on a budget,’” Associated Press, September 2, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/technology-police-government-surveillance-d3….
|Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy?||4.004 6.006|
There are few legal constraints on the collection, storage, and transfer of data by private or public actors in the United States. ISPs and content hosts collect vast amounts of information about users’ online activities, communications, and preferences. This information can be subject to government requests for access, typically through a subpoena, court order, search warrant, or national security letter.
In general, the country lacks a comprehensive federal data-protection law that would limit how private companies can use personal information and share it with government authorities, though a number of bills have been proposed.1 The draft American Privacy and Protection Act, introduced in June 2022 but not reintroduced in the current Congress as of early September 2023, would minimize the personal data collected by companies, allow users to opt out of data transfers, and provide the FTC with enforcement power, among other provisions.2 In July 2023, after the coverage period, the House Judiciary Committee approved the bipartisan Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act, which would prohibit law enforcement and intelligence agencies from buying sensitive personal information like geolocation data from private companies and require the agencies to obtain a warrant, among other measures.3 It was unclear when the bill would receive a vote from the full House of Representatives.4
Given the lack of a comprehensive federal law, the FTC in August 2022 announced that it was seeking public comment on whether the agency should institute new regulatory restrictions to limit harmful commercial surveillance.5
Most legislative activity on data privacy has occurred at the state or local level.6 Two California laws, the 2018 California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the 2020 California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA),7 allow state residents to obtain information from businesses about how their personal data are collected, used, and shared.8 Among other powers granted to them under the CPRA, consumers can request that personal information held by a business be corrected, opt out of automated decision-making technology, and opt out of certain information sharing.9 As of July 2023, six states had active bills on comprehensive data privacy moving through their legislatures, and five states had passed new comprehensive data privacy laws since the beginning of the year.10
Under the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015, companies are permitted to report granular detail on certain types of government requests, under some constraints.11 In 2019, a filing under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) revealed that the FBI had used national security letters—a form of secret administrative subpoena that the bureau can issue to demand certain types of communications and financial records—to access personal data from a much broader group of entities than previously understood,12 including Western Union, Bank of America, Equifax, TransUnion, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Kansas State University, major ISPs, and tech and social media companies.
Separately, the government may request that companies store targeted data for up to 180 days under the 1986 Stored Communications Act (SCA).13
In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled narrowly in Carpenter v. United States that the government is required to obtain a warrant in order to access seven days or more of subscriber location records from mobile service providers.14 The ruling also diminished, in a limited way, the third-party doctrine—the idea that Fourth Amendment privacy protections do not extend to most types of information that are handed over voluntarily to third parties, such as telecommunications companies.15
The scope of law enforcement access to user data held by companies was expanded earlier in 2018 under the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act.16 The act stipulated that law enforcement requests sent to US companies for user data under the SCA would apply to records in the company’s possession, including overseas. The CLOUD Act also allowed certain foreign governments to enter into bilateral agreements with the United States and then petition US companies to hand over user data,17 bypassing the “mutual legal assistance treaty” (MLAT) process.18 In 2019, the United States and the United Kingdom signed the first Bilateral Data Access Agreement under the CLOUD Act, and in December 2021,19 the United States and Australia entered a similar pact.20
User information is otherwise protected under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA), which has been interpreted to prohibit internet entities from deceiving customers about what types of personal information are being collected from them and how they are used.
Private companies may comply with both legal demands and voluntary requests for user data from the government. A January 2023 report from the ACLU disclosed a database of sensitive financial information that DHS and Arizona officials had obtained from money-order companies.21 In October 2021, Vice News reported on an FBI document that clarified what data service providers collect and store, how the bureau and other law enforcement bodies can obtain location information from the providers without a warrant, and what tools agencies have to analyze the information provided.22 In November 2021, the transparency organization Property of the People released a previously unreported FBI document that showed the extent to which certain messaging platforms—like WhatsApp, Signal, iMessage, and Viber—store user data that can be accessed via warrants or subpoenas.23
Government bodies have purchased phone location data to aid in investigations and law enforcement, sidestepping judicial and other forms of oversight.24 In June 2023, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified a January 2022 report finding that intelligence agencies purchase data on the commercial market, including location data, under “policies that may not accord sufficient protection.”25 In July 2022, the ACLU published thousands of pages of records indicating that DHS agencies including CBP, ICE, the Secret Service, and the Coast Guard had purchased huge volumes of location information pulled from mobile apps.26
The Dobbs decision reignited calls for Congress to pass a privacy law and for companies to limit the data they collect and share with state officials, particularly in states where abortion had been criminalized after Dobbs and such information could be used for prosecutions.27 A Gizmodo investigation identified 32 data brokers selling information from an estimated 2.9 billion profiles of people determined to be pregnant or who searched for maternity products online, as well as 478 million customer profiles categorized as “interested” in becoming or “intended” to become pregnant.28 Vice News similarly reported that the data broker SafeGraph was selling aggregated data, including location information, of people who visited abortion and reproductive health clinics.29 In response to the concerns, the FTC announced that it would to the extent of its legal authority protect Americans against companies that exploit health, location, and other sensitive information.30 In April 2023, the commission and other federal bodies improved safeguards for health data by expanding definitions of “personally identifiable health information,” restricting the use of some marketing technologies for health care, and extending protections for patient records under the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to cover consumer health data.31
Facebook, complying with a search warrant sent in June 2022, provided Nebraska police with private messages between Celeste Burgess, a 19-year-old, and her mother Jessica Burgess as part of a felony case related to an alleged abortion.32 In July 2023, after the coverage period, Celeste Burgess was sentenced to 90 days in jail; Jessica Burgess faced up to five years in prison and was expected to be sentenced in the fall of 2023.33 The incident prompted renewed calls for the platform to encrypt its messaging services.34
Police issue “geofence” warrants to gain access to information from electronic devices within a given geographic area, raising due process and proportionality concerns. Police in Minneapolis obtained a warrant compelling Google to deliver account data for anyone within a specified location of the city in May 2020, during protests in response to George Floyd’s murder.35 In August 2020, two federal judges in separate opinions ruled that such broad location-based warrants violate the Fourth Amendment.36 The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was expected to hear arguments in United States v. Chatrie, the first geofence search case to reach a federal court of appeals, in late 2023.37
- 1The Editorial Board, “Why Is America So Far Behind Europe on Digital Privacy?” The New York Times, June 8, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/08/opinion/sunday/privacy-congress-face….; Rebecca Kern, “Democrat Reners Data Privacy Effort with Frist Bill of 2021 (1),” Bloomberg Law, March 10, 2021, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/tech-and-telecom-law/democrat-renews-cons….; The Office of Senator John Kennedy, “Kennedy, Klobuchar introduce bill to protect privacy of consumers’ online data,” May 20, 2021, https://www.kennedy.senate.gov/public/2021/5/kennedy-klobuchar-introduc…; Makena Kelly, “Senators roll out bipartisan data privacy bill,” The Verge, May 20, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2021/5/20/22444515/amy-klobuchar-data-privacy-…;
- 2Justin Hendrix, ”American Data Privacy and Protection Act Proposed in U.S. Congress,” Tech Policy Press, June 3, 2022, https://techpolicy.press/american-data-privacy-and-protection-act-propo….; “H.R. 8152 – American Data Privacy and Protection Act,” 117th Congress, visited September 25, 2022, https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/8152/text.
- 3Adi Robertson, “Lawmakers propose ban on police buying access to Clearview AI and other data brokers,” The Verge, April 21, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2021/4/21/22395650/wyden-paul-fourth-amendment….
- 4Dell Cameron, “Rival US Lawmakers Mobilize to Stop Police From Buying Phone Data,” WIRED, July 18, 2023, https://www.wired.com/story/fourth-amendment-is-not-for-sale-act-2023/.
- 5“FTC Explores Rules Cracking down on Commercial Surveillance and Lax Data Security Practices,” Federal Trade Commission, August 11, 2022, https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/08/ftc-explore….
- 6Jon Brodkin, “ISP privacy rules could be resurrected by states, starting in Minnesota,” Ars Technica, March 31, 2017, https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/03/isp-privacy-rules-could-be-…; Conor Dougherty, “Push for Internet Privacy Rules Moves to Statehouses,” The New York Times, March 26, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/26/technology/internet-privacy-state-le…. Thompson Hine LLP. “Data Privacy Update: Several US States enact privacy legislation in 2023.” Lexology, May 4, 2023. https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=49a04330-9f31-415d-9329-…
- 7California Legislative Information, “Assembly Bill No. 375,” June 28, 2018, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=2….
- 8Heather Kelly, “California passes strictest online privacy law in the country,” CNN, https://money.cnn.com/2018/06/28/technology/california-consumer-privacy….; Cynthia Cole, Matthew R. Baker, and Katherine Burgess, “Move Over, CCPA: The California Privacy Rights Act Gets the Spotlight Now,” Bloomberg Law, November 16, 2020, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/privacy-and-data-security/move-over-ccpa-….
- 9Alejandro Cruz, Anthony LoMonaco, Peter Nelson, and Maxwell Weiss, “California Privacy Rights Act: The Five Biggest Changes You Need to Know Now,” JD Supra, March 24, 2021, https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/california-privacy-rights-act-the-fiv…; Paul W. Sweeney, Jr., Tara C. Clancy, and Gregory T. Lewis, “California Voters Approve (Another) Overhaul of California Consumer Privacy Laws: Meet the California Privacy Rights Act, The National Law Review, January 13, 2021, https://www.natlawreview.com/article/california-voters-approve-another-….
- 10Anokhy Desai, “US State Privacy Legislation Tracker,” International Association of Privacy Professionals, May 12, 2023, https://iapp.org/resources/article/us-state-privacy-legislation-tracker/
- 11For additional information on reporting standards, see USA Freedom Act, H.R. 2048 (2015), https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/2048/text.
- 12Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, “Secret F.B.I. Subpoenas Scoop Up Personal Data From Scores of Companies,” September 20, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/20/us/data-privacy-fbi.html?mc_cid=a27e…; Andrew Crocker and Aaron Mackey, “Victory! EFF Wins National Security Letter Transparency Lawsuit,” May 14, 2019, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/05/victory-eff-wins-national-securit….
- 13Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Mandatory Data Retention: United States,” https://www.eff.org/issues/mandatory-data-retention/us.
- 14Adam Liptak, “In Ruling on Cellphone Location Data, Supreme Court Makes Statement on Digital Privacy,” The New York Times, June 22, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/22/us/politics/supreme-court-warrants-c….
- 15Paul Ohm, “The Broad Reach of Carpenter v. United States,” Just Security, June 27, 2018, https://www.justsecurity.org/58520/broad-reach-carpenter-v-united-state….
- 16115th Congress, S.2383 - CLOUD Act, February 6, 2018, https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/2383/text; David Ruiz, “Responsibility Deflected, the CLOUD Act Passes,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, March 22, 2018, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2018/03/responsibility-deflected-cloud-ac….
- 17Andrew Keane Woods and Peter Swire, “The CLOUD Act: A Welcome Legislative Fix for Cross-Border Data Problems,” Lawfare, February 6, 2018, https://lawfareblog.com/cloud-act-welcome-legislative-fix-cross-border-….
- 18Lisa O. Monaco and John P. Carlin, “A ‘global game of whack-a-mole’: Overseas data rules are stuck in the 19th century,” The Washington Post, March 5, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-global-game-of-whack-a-mole-o….
- 19Nathan Swire, “Applying the CLOUD Act to the U.S.-U.K. Bilateral Data Access Agreement,” Lawfare, https://www.lawfareblog.com/applying-cloud-act-us-uk-bilateral-data-acc…; Helen Warrell and Madhumita Murgia, “UK and US Sign Agreement on Access to Terrorist Data,” Financial Times, October 3, 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/fdba38aa-e5fc-11e9-b112-9624ec9edc59.
- 20Australian Governemnt Department of Home Affairs, “Australia-US Cloud Act Agreement,” last updated January 25, 2022, https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/about-us/our-portfolios/national-securit….
- 21Fikayo Walter-Johnson and Nathan Freed Wessler, “How the Arizona Attorney General Created a Secretive, Illegal Surveillance Program to Sweep up Millions of Our Financial Records,” ACLU, January 18, 2023, https://www.aclu.org/news/privacy-technology/how-the-arizona-attorney-g….
- 22Joseph Cox, “Here’s the FBI’s Internal Guide for Getting Data from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon,”Vice Media, October 25, 2021, https://www.vice.com/en/article/m7vqkv/how-fbi-gets-phone-data-att-tmob….
- 23Andy Kroll, “FBI Document Says the Feds Can Get Your WhatsApp Data – in Real Time,” Rolling Stone, November 29, 2021, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/whatsapp-imessa…; Rianna Pfefferkorn, “We Now Know What Information the FBI Can Obtain from Encrypted Messaging Apps,” Just Security, December 14, 2021, https://www.justsecurity.org/79549/we-now-know-what-information-the-fbi…
- 24Hamed Aleaziz and Caroline Haskins, “DHS Authorities Are Buying Moment-By-Moment Geolocation Cellphone Data to Track People,” Buzzfeed News, October 30, 2020, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/hamedaleaziz/ice-dhs-cell-phone-da….
- 25Report to the Director of National Intelligence, Office of the Director of National Intelligence Senior Advisory Group Panel on Commercially Available Information, January 27, 2022, https://www.dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/assessments/ODNI-Declassified-…
- 26Shreya Tewari and Fikayo Walter-Johnson, “New Records Detail DHS Purchase and Use of Vast Quantities of Cell Phone Location Data,” ACLU, July 18, 2022, https://www.aclu.org/news/privacy-technology/new-records-detail-dhs-pur….
- 27Jon Brodkin, “Google urged to stop collecting phone location data before Roe v. Wade reversal,” Ars Technica, May 25, 2022, https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2022/05/democrats-say-google-locati…; Jake Laperruque, Eric Null, Andrew Crawford, Lydia X.Z. Brown, “Following the Overturning of Roe v Wade, Action is Needed to Protect Health Data,” Center for Democracy and Technology, June 24, 2022, https://cdt.org/insights/following-the-overturning-of-roe-v-wade-action….; Cameron F. Kerry, “How Comprehensive privacy legislation can guard reproductive privacy,” Brookings, July 7, 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2022/07/07/how-comprehensive-pr….
- 28Shoshana Wodinsky and Kyle Barr, ”These companies know when you’re pregnant – and they’re not keeping it secret,” Gizmodo, July 30, 2022, https://gizmodo.com/data-brokers-selling-pregnancy-roe-v-wade-abortion-….
- 29Joseph Cox, “Data Broker Is Selling Location Data of People Who Visit Abortion Clinics,” Vice, May 3, 2022, https://www.vice.com/en/article/m7vzjb/location-data-abortion-clinics-s…; Dan Mangan, “Location data broker SafeGraph stops selling information on visits to abortion providers,” CNBC, May 4, 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/04/data-broker-safegraph-stops-selling-abo….; Bennet Cyphers and Jason Kelley, “Illinois Bought Invasive Phone Location Data From Banned Broker Safegraph,” EFF, August 19, 2021, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2021/08/illinois-bought-invasive-phone-lo….
- 30Kristin Cohen, “Location, health, and other sensitive information: FTC committed to fully enforcing the law against illegal use and sharing of highly sensitive data,” Federal Trade Commission, July 11, 2022, https://www.ftc.gov/business-guidance/blog/2022/07/location-health-and-….
- 31Ruth Reader, “‘Shut it off immediately’: The health industry responds to data privacy crackdown,” Politico, April 17, 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/04/17/health-industry-data-privacy-0…
- 32Josh Funk, “Nebraska woman faces abortion-related charge after cops seize family Facebook messages,” Associated Press, August 9, 2022, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2022/08/09/facebook-messages….
- 33Michael Levenson, “Nebraska Teen Who Used Pills to End Pregnancy Gets 90 Days in Jail,” The New York Times, July 20, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/20/us/celeste-burgess-abortion-pill-neb….
- 34Naomi Nix and Elizabeth Dwoskin, “Search warrants for abortion data leave tech companies few options,” the Washington Post, August 12, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/08/12/nebraska-abortion-….
- 35Zack Whittaker, “Minneapolis police tapped Google to identify George Floyd protesters,” Tech Crunch, February 6, 2021, https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/06/minneapolis-protests-geofence-warrant/.
- 36As cited in Jennifer Lynch and Nathaniel Sobel, “New Federal Court Rulings Find Geofence Warrants Unconstitutional,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, August 31, 2020, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/08/new-federal-court-rulings-find-ge….
- 37ACLU, “ACLU Argues Evidence From Privacy-Invasive Geofence Warrants Should Be Suppressed,” January 30, 2023, https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/aclu-argues-evidence-from-privacy-i…
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities?||3.003 5.005|
Internet users are generally free from extralegal intimidation or violence by state actors. However, online harassment is a long-standing and growing problem in the United States. Women and members of marginalized racial, ethnic, and religious groups are often singled out for such threats and mistreatment. A 2021 report from the Pew Research Center found that 41 percent of adults in the United States had experienced online harassment, with 33 percent of women under 35 reporting that they had faced sexual harassment online.1
In the periods surrounding both the 2022 midterm elections and the 2020 general elections, people involved with election administration and certification have faced online harassment, due in part to conspiracy theories about their role in supposed fraud schemes (see B5 and B7). A March 2022 poll conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice found that one in six officials had received threats—often via social media—related to their election work, and that election workers were leaving their jobs in growing numbers as a result of safety concerns.2 According to a survey published in early 2022 by the Brennan Center, one in five election officials did not plan to continue serving through 2024, pointing to stress and politicians’ attacks on the system as reasons for leaving.3
For example, throughout late 2022, a Texas resident who followed conspiracy theories about voter fraud in Arizona posted online death threats aimed at Stephen Richer and Tom Liddy, both Maricopa County election officials, and their families.4 In June 2022, Shaye Moss, a former Georgia election worker, testified before the House of Representatives’ January 6 Committee about how violent, racist, and death threats via text and social media had upended her life. The threats began after former president Trump and his lawyer Rudolph Giuliani smeared Moss and her mother as part of a conspiracy theory about fake ballots during the 2020 elections; the smears were then shared by far-right online outlets.5
Scientists and government health officials have faced increased online harassment, including threats of violence, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.6 In December 2022, Anthony Fauci, then outgoing chief medical adviser to the president, disclosed that he and his family had received regular online harassment, including credible death threats, often based on false or misleading information about his work.7
In general, online harassment and threats, including doxing, disproportionately affect women and members of marginalized demographic groups.8 A June 2023 report from the Anti-Defamation League found that 51 percent of transgender people surveyed had experienced online harassment in the past 12 months, the highest of any demographic group surveyed, followed by 47 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer people, and 38 percent of Black or Muslim people.9 A 2022 report found that women mayors and mayors of color reported higher rates of abuse and harassment, including online, compared with their male and non-Hispanic White peers.10 For example, a Latina local official interviewed for a May 2023 Princeton University report said that she had been targeted with racialized death threats, including photos of lynchings, on social media.11
New York City councilman Erik Bottcher’s office and home were vandalized in December 2022 after he posted a video on Twitter about confronting anti-LGBT+ protesters.12 In June 2022, a California state senator was targeted with bomb threats after he posted on Twitter to mock a bill that sought to ban drag shows in the presence of minors.13 According to a December 2022 report from the Human Rights Campaign, 24 different medical providers and hospitals experienced targeted online harassment, as well as bomb threats, because they provided gender-affirming care or discussed such services on their websites.14
Online journalists are at times exposed to physical violence or intimidation by police, particularly while covering protests. During a protest in Los Angeles against the Dobbs decision in June 2022, a reporter for the online news site LA Taco was repeatedly shoved by police officers, despite clear identification as a member of the press.15 Beyond isolated cases of violence, US-based journalists have faced growing online harassment. In a PEN America survey conducted between June and October 2021, 58 percent of more than 1,000 journalists and editors reported experiencing one or more forms of harassment, most often online, including via email, trolling, doxing, or “catfishing.”16
The White House’s Task Force to Address Online Harassment, created in June 2022,17 released recommendations in March 2023 that included the establishment of a National Resource Center on Cybercrimes against Individuals, the issuance of grants for law enforcement training on survivor support, and initiatives for increased accountability and research on online harassment and abuse..18
- 1Emily A. Vogels, “The State of Online Harassment,” Pew Research Center, January 13, 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/01/13/the-state-of-online-har….
- 2Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan, “At Jan. 6 Capitol riot hearing, election officials tell of harassment by Trump supporters,” Reuters, June 21, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-congress-jan-6-committee-zero-press…; Ruby Edlin and Turquoise Baker, “Poll of Local Election Officials Finds Safety Fears for Colleagues – and Themselves,” The Brennan Center, March 10, 2022, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/poll-local-elec…
- 3Cat Zakrzewski, “Election workers brace for a torrent of threats: ‘I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP’,” Washington Post, November 8, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/11/08/election-workers-o…; https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/local-election-…
- 4Eduardo Medina, “Man Who Threatened Arizona Election Officials Gets More Than 3 Years in Prison,” New York Times, August 6, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/04/us/texas-election-threats-man-senten….
- 5Deepa Shivaram, “Shaye Moss staffed an election office in Georgia. Then she was targeted by Trump,” National Public Radio, June 22, 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/06/22/1106459556/shaye-moss-staffed-an-electio…; Linda So and Jason Szep, “Two election workers break silence after enduring Trump backers’ threats,” Reuters, December 10, 2022. https://www.reuters.com/world/us/exclusive-two-election-workers-break-s….
- 6Cathleen O’Grady, “In the Line of Fire,” Science, March 24, 2022, https://www.science.org/content/article/overwhelmed-hate-covid-19-scien….
- 7Adela Suliman, “Fauci slams ‘lowlife’ trolls harassing his wife, children over covid,” Washington Post, December 9, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/12/09/anthony-fauci-harassme….
- 8Sarah Sobieraj, “Disinformation, Democracy, and the Social Costs of Identity-Based Attacks Online,” Sobieraj, Sarah. 2019. Disinformation, Democracy, and the Social Costs of Identity-Based Attacks Online. Social Science Research Council, MediaWell, October 22, 2019, https://mediawell.ssrc.org/expert-reflections/disinformation-democracy-….
- 9“Online Hate and Harassment: The American Experience 2023,” Anti-Defamation League, June 2023, https://www.adl.org/resources/report/online-hate-and-harassment-america….
- 10“An Assault on Local Democracy,” Mayors Innovation Project, May 22, 2022, https://mayorsinnovation.org/2022/05/11/an-assault-on-local-democracy/; Rebecca Klar, “Female mayors, mayors of color report higher rates of political violence, study finds,” May 11, 2022, https://thehill.com/policy/technology/3483334-women-mayors-mayors-of-co….
- 11“In Their Own Words: Threats and Harassment Facing Local Officials,” Princeton University Bridging Divides Initiative, May 2023, https://bridgingdivides.princeton.edu/document/1496.
- 12James Factora, “A Gay Politician’s Home Was Vandalized After He Supported Drag Queen Story Hour,” them.us, December 20, 2022 https://www.them.us/story/gay-politician-nyc-eri-bottcher-home-groomer-….
- 13Ben Collins and Doha Madani, “Anti-LGBTQ threats, fueled by internet’s far right ‘machine,’ shut down trans rights and drag events,” NBC, June 17, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/anti-lgbtq-threats-orchestrated-…
- 14“Online Harassment, Offline Violence,” Human Rights Campaign Foundation, December 8, 2022, http://hrc.im/OnlineHateReport
- 15“Journalist repeatedly shoved while covering LA reproductive rights protests,” U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, June 24 ,2022, https://pressfreedomtracker.us/all-incidents/journalist-repeatedly-shov…;
- 16“Hard News: Journalists and the Threat of Disinformation,” PEN America, accessed September 26, 2022, https://pen.org/report/hard-news-journalists-and-the-threat-of-disinfor….
- 17Memorandum on the Establishment of the White House Task Force to Address Online Harassment and Abuse,” The White House, June 16, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/06/1…
- 18“EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Initial Blueprint for the White House Task Force to Address Online Harassment and Abuse,” March 3, 2023, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/03/03…
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||1.001 3.003|
Cyberattacks pose an ongoing threat to the security of websites and networks in the United States. Civil society groups, journalists, and politicians have also been subjected to targeted technical attacks. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June 2022 renewed digital security concerns among many Americans and raised the risk of technical attacks on websites associated with abortion.1
Media organizations sometimes experience cyberattacks. In May 2023, the Philadelphia Inquirer briefly closed its newsroom because of a ransomware attack.2 Also in May, the news site Black Star News was taken offline and had articles removed from its website; the outlet indicated that the cyberattack may have been motivated by its reporting.3
Some attacks have been traced to foreign actors. In May 2023, a China-based hacking group gained access to the email accounts of about 25 organizations, including US government agencies, according to a Microsoft investigation. Subsequent disclosures indicated that the Department of Commerce, including the email account of Secretary Gina Raimondo, was among those affected by the breach.4 In June 2023, after the coverage period, the Department of Energy and several other federal agencies were affected by a ransomware campaign in which Russia-based hackers targeted several hundred companies.5
Ransomware and other types of cyberattacks against federal, state, and local government institutions are common. Florida’s Supreme Court was one of many victims in a global ransomware attack in February 2023, affecting servers used in state court administration.6 The same month, the City of Oakland, California, experienced a ransomware attack that led to network outages, the declaration of a state of emergency, and a data dump of over 600 gigabytes of information on the internet, including social security numbers, home addresses, medical data, and other confidential information from current and former city workers and residents who had used City of Oakland websites or filed claims against the city.7 In February 2023, the US Marshals Service discovered a major ransomware attack that exposed sensitive information, including the personal information of its employees and people accused or convicted of crimes.8
- 1Sam Sabin, ”’Lock it down right now’: Abortion rights advocates prepare for a new wave of digital security threats,” Politico, June 17, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/06/17/abortion-rights-advocates-digi….; Jenni Bergal, “Abortion Rights Hacktivists Strike States with Bans,” PEW Charitable Trust, Stateline, July 6, 2022, https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2022….; Rebecca Grant, “The Disturbing Rise of Cyberattacks Against Abortion Clinics,” WIRED, October 5, 2017, https://www.wired.com/story/cyberattacks-against-abortion-clinics/.
- 2“Cyberattack disrupts Inquirer publishing, closes newsroom,” US Press Freedom Tracker, May 13, 2023, https://pressfreedomtracker.us/all-incidents/cyberattack-disrupts-inqui…
- 3“After Massive Targeted Cyberattack, Black Star News Is Back,” Black Star News, May 2023, https://blackstarnews.com/after-massive-targeted-cyberattack-black-star….
- 4“Microsoft mitigates China-based threat actor Storm-0558 targeting of customer email,” MSRC, July 11, 2023, https://msrc.microsoft.com/blog/2023/07/microsoft-mitigates-china-based…; Annabelle Liang, “ Microsoft: China accused of hacking US government emails,” BBC, July 13, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/business-66184678.
- 5Sean Lyngaas, “Exclusive: US government agencies hit in global cyberattack,” June 15, 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/06/15/politics/us-government-hit-cybeattack/in….
- 6James Pearson and Raphael Satter, “Florida state court system, US, EU universities hit by ransomware outbreak,” February 7, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/ransomware-outbreak-hits-florida-supre…
- 7CBS Bay Area, “Oakland acknowledges ransomware attack has worsened with massive new release of personal info,” April 5, 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/sanfrancisco/news/oakland-ransomware-attack-wor…
- 8Nicole Sgana and Robert Legare, “"Major" cyberattack compromised sensitive U.S. Marshals Service data,” CBS News, February 28, 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-marshals-office-cyber-attack-compromise…
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Global Freedom Score83 100 free
Internet Freedom Score76 100 free
Freedom in the World StatusFree