EARN IT Act Is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

New animation shows how the EARN IT Act, now on the Senate floor, will curtail end-to-end encrypted messages, ending internet privacy as we know it.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – July 22 – The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2020, also known as the EARN IT Act, by a unanimous vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has moved to the Senate floor. The bill was originally introduced by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. If this dangerous bill becomes law, it will end private communication on the internet.

The EARN IT Act is part of a long history of using sex panics to expand state power. If we fall for it this time we may effectively end freedom of expression and open communication on the internet as we know it. To raise awareness of this wolf in sheep’s clothing, Decriminalize Sex Work, a national advocacy organization, has released a new animated short:

EARN IT threatens website providers’ and other intermediaries’ ability to provide end-to-end encrypted services. End-to-end encryption is critical to ensuring private communication and often personal safety.

“Do voters really want the government snooping into their most private communication, with therapists, journalists, or intimate friends?” asks Kaytlin Bailey, Communications Director for Decriminalize Sex Work. “It’s easy to imagine how Trump’s DOJ will abuse these new surveillance tools to attack whistleblowers, protestors, and adult consensual sex workers.”

End-to-end encryption allows journalists to communicate about sensitive issues with sources, allows doctors to communicate with patients, and allows the average person to share sensitive financial information with trusted people. EARN IT can destroy all of this by exposing web platforms to an “enormous number of lawsuits in which they will potentially face liability for their choice to protect users’ privacy and security through end-to-end encryption (E2EE),” according to Emma Llansó with the Center for Democracy & Technology. “Prosecutors and civil litigants will point to the encrypted status of an intermediary’s services as a relevant consideration in their claims, even for criminal and civil provisions with a ‘knowingly’ mens rea. Even if an intermediary successfully defends against a particular claim, the consistent threat of litigation, and challenge to their decision to employ encryption, will be a strong disincentive against providing E2EE and continuing to have to defend that decision in court.”

“We can learn from the damaging consequences of the 2018 Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA),” says Bailey. “Donald Trump signed FOSTA-SESTA into law in April of 2018 to devastating effects. Rather than protecting children and victims of sex trafficking, this set of laws has made sex work more dangerous.”

Llansó writes, “The clear lesson from the SESTA-FOSTA debacle: When content hosts, website operators, social media services, search engines, and other intermediaries face increased legal risk for user-generated content, it is the users who end up suffering, a cost often borne by the most vulnerable.”

Like so many of the save-the-children bills before it, EARN IT will not combat child sexual exploitation, but it will be the largest expansion of state surveillance powers in recent history, eliminating private communication on the internet.

Decriminalize Sex Work

Decriminalize Sex Work is a national organization pursuing a state-by-state strategy to end the prohibition of consensual, adult prostitution in the United States. We work with local organizations, advocates, and lobbyists to build community support and convince legislators to stop prostitution-related arrests. Evidence shows that decriminalizing sex work will help end human trafficking, improve public health, and promote community safety.

Kaytlin Bailey
Communications Director
512-942-6078 Ext 1
[email protected]