January 6th Commission to Include Focus on Tech Platforms, Per Draft Bill

Justin Hendrix / Mar 16, 2021

A discussion draft of a bill issued yesterday by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to "establish the National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex" indicates it is likely an investigation of the role of technology platforms in creating the conditions and facilitating the organization and execution of the violence that day will be a substantial focus of the Commission.

In order to "investigate and report upon the facts and causes relating to the January 6, 2021, domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol Complex," the bill says the Commission will consider "influencing factors that fomented such [an] attack on American representative democracy," and remain a threat. Citing a Department of Homeland Security bulletin on domestic extremism, the letter calls out "perceived grievances fueled by false narratives," and threats of violence that cite "misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 for their actions."

The functions of the Commission as described in the draft include the conduct of an investigation into "influencing factors that contributed to the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol and how technology, including online platforms, financing, and malign foreign influence campaigns may have factored into the motivation, organization, and execution of the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol and other targeted violence and domestic terrorism relevant to such attack," and will include a focus on "private sector" entities.

Further, the draft lays out skillsets of Commissioners, which should include experts of "national recognition and significant depth" in areas such as "civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy," "counterterrorism," "cybersecurity," and "technology," among other disciplines.

The Committee will have subpoena power to command testimony and the production of evidence, per the draft, and would complete its activities by December 31st of this year.

"In the wake of January 6th, accountability must not be sidelined. We look forward to momentum on the bipartisan commission and appreciate the continued focus on this from House Leadership," said Lisa Gilbert, Executive Vice President at Public Citizen, a watchdog group that advocates for accountability for tech companies. "We anticipate movement on the Commission resolution this spring and welcome the continued insights we will gain from ongoing probing of the horrifying attack."

Previously, 31 Republican Congressional Representatives supported H.R. 275, which was introduced by Illinois Republican Rodney Davis, and a dozen Democrats supported a version introduced by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) in H.R. 410. Just Security compared the bills. The more prominent focus on tech in the Pelosi draft is new- though the prior Republican bill did include a focus on "online disinformation."


Justin Hendrix
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & ...