Judge Says US Has No Duty to Correct Bogus ‘Information’

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The government has no duty to correct inaccurate or misleading information, including in a report that allegedly overstates the threat posed by Muslim immigrants, a federal judge said in court Thursday.

“No court has reviewed and said to an agency you have to change something you disseminated because it’s not correct,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley said during a motion to dismiss hearing.

Corley is presiding over a lawsuit that claims the Trump administration issued a misleading January 2018 report that “manipulates information” to justify a travel ban targeting six Muslim-majority nations.

Washington, D.C.-based Muslim Advocates sued the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security in April last year, saying the failure to correct the “misleading” report violates the Information Quality Act.

The report, published pursuant to an executive order on “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States,” found 72 percent of those convicted of international terrorism charges in the United States from September 2001 to December 2016 were foreign-born.

According to Muslim Advocates, the report omitted data on domestic terror incidents and included people who committed terrorist acts overseas and whose only tie to the United States was their extradition for prosecution. The report also allegedly relied on “irrelevant and debunked” studies on “honor killings” and violence against women by foreign nationals, which are not tracked by the government.

The plaintiff says the report also conflicted with prior government studies, including an April 2017 report that found right-wing extremists were behind 73 percent of 85 violent extremist incidents resulting in death since Sept. 12, 2001.

“This report is presented as neutral, objective truth,” Muslim Advocates attorney Benjamin Seel, of Democracy Forward Foundation in Washington, D.C., argued in court Thursday.

The Justice Department says the Information Quality Act and Office of Management and Budget guidelines obligate it only to provide a process for people to seek a correction.

“The statute and these guidelines do not require correcting information, even if it’s incorrect,” Justice Department lawyer Claire Cormier said.

After Muslim Advocates filed a petition for correction, the Justice Department replied in October 2018 that the report “could be criticized by some readers, consistent with some of the concerns voiced” in the petition. The department said it would consider those issues in future reports, but it declined to retract or correct the information.

Corley said the government has broad discretion in deciding whether to issue a correction and that the plaintiff was not denied its right to challenge the report’s accuracy through the process required by law.

“You had that process,” Corley said. “You just disagree with the result.”

The fact that the government acknowledged problems with the report but refused to correct them “renders the process illusory,” Seel told the judge.

Corley disagreed.

Responding to the judge’s query, Seel acknowledged he did not know whether the government has rejected every petition for correction ever filed.

“Probably sometimes on questions a little more clear and not so politically infused, they probably say, ‘Oops, that was wrong, and the information was corrected,'” Corley said. “I don’t know how you can say the process is illusory if sometimes it works.”

Corley said it would be an “extraordinary right” if people could force the government to correct information through the courts.

“The government disseminates millions of pieces of information every day,” Corley said. “Do you really think that’s what Congress intended?”

Corley indicated she probably will grant the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss.

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