July 22, 2020
In our last newsletter, DSW reported on how the EARN IT Act, a bill that recently advanced out of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, threatens the very heart of online security and privacy. The legislation claims to go after the online sexual abuse of minors. In a world that is quickly digitizing — and becoming even more dependent on internet security as the coronavirus pandemic forces businesses, healthcare facilities, schools, and other institutions to move online — the EARN IT Act is a sneak ban on encryption that, in reality, does not make anyone safer. Watch DSW’s animation on how the EARN IT Act, now on the Senate floor, would curtail end-to-end encryption and end internet privacy as we know it.
EARN IT would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online service providers from liability for content posted by their users. That immunity blocks most civil lawsuits and criminal charges under state law (except for sex trafficking) but maintains the tenants of federal regulations.
Under the EARN IT Act, the only way to maintain immunity is for the provider to comply with censorship “best practices” for fighting online sexual exploitation of minors. While this is a critical cause, these best practices would be developed by an “unelected, unaccountable 19-member commission headed by the attorney general, who would have the authority to approve or reject them,” according to Riana Pfefferkorn of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. These guidelines would then bypass legally mandated deliberative processes to be quickly approved by congress.
Vulnerable people would be more at risk under the EARN IT Act’s mandates. Experts from Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, the Brookings Institution, and more charge that this legislation inappropriately goes after tech companies to solve a problem requiring a holistic social, policy, and enforcement solution. This approach would endanger the security of children, the rights of marginalized groups, and society in general.