Yet More Gov’t-Big Tech Collusion? New Report on YouTube Raises Disturbing Questions

March 28th, 2024 3:02 PM

It’s not just censorship. The federal government reportedly ordered Google to reveal which users were watching certain videos on its YouTube platform.

The feds face a U.S. Supreme Court case for coordinating with Big Tech to violate Americans’ First Amendment free speech rights. But the government may also be violating Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights against “unreasonable searches” by demanding user data from Google-owned YouTube, according to a Forbes report published on March 22. Experts framed the orders as a free speech issue.

“The left used to push for federal gun registries. They have now shifted their focus to the most dangerous weapon of all: speech. Because they can’t stand dissent or diversity of opinion, the left is trying to intimidate their opposition from speaking their minds or accessing news from right-of-center news outlets,” said MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider. “We’ve seen how the Biden administration has funded efforts to choke off private funding of conservative media outlets and how it has tried to direct students away from these sites. Now Biden is demanding access to user data. Given the government’s track record, we should be very skeptical.”

The potential Fourth Amendment violations were revealed as Forbes originally reported that it accessed multiple orders related to a Kentucky case where law enforcement officials suspected YouTube user “elonmuskwhm” was selling bitcoin in exchange for cash, a potential money laundering crime. As unveiled by Forbes, the government not only investigated the suspected user but also demanded data on all individuals who viewed the user’s videos between Jan. 1 and Jan. 8, 2023. Videos posted by “Elonmuskwhm” garnered at least 30,000 views. Strikingly, Google was reportedly required to keep the requests secret until they were recently unsealed.

“The court orders show the government telling Google to provide the names, addresses, telephone numbers and user activity for all Google account users who accessed the YouTube videos between January 1 and January 8, 2023,” according to Forbes. “The government also wanted the IP addresses of non-Google account owners who viewed the videos.” The data was allegedly “‘relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation,’” Forbes quoted the police as having said. The feds also demanded data on viewers of livestreams showing officers searching an area after a bomb threat.

Forbes noted that privacy experts see the federal orders on YouTube as a constitutional violation, both of the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights of Americans. Albert Fox-Cahn, executive director at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told Forbes, “This is the latest chapter in a disturbing trend where we see government agencies increasingly transforming search warrants into digital dragnets. It’s unconstitutional, it’s terrifying and it’s happening every day.” He added that users should not be surveilled secretively by the government because the YouTube algorithm suggested a video to them.

John Davisson, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said that “[w]hat we watch online can reveal deeply sensitive information about us—our politics, our passions, our religious beliefs, and much more.” He concluded, “It's fair to expect that law enforcement won't have access to that information without probable cause. This warrant turns that assumption on its head.”

This is another piece of evidence showing potential federal government violations of constitutional rights. The Murthy v. Missouri case, currently before the Supreme Court, exposed the extent of alleged government collusion with Big Tech to crush free speech using a leftist bias. 

Conservatives are under attack. Contact your representatives and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment while providing transparency and an equal footing for conservatives. If you have been censored, contact us at the Media Research Center contact form, and help us hold Big Tech accountable.