Last week, Access Now, along with 24 public interest organizations, sent a letter to U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposing the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act. The letter explains that addressing online child sexual exploitation is of critical importance and should be a top priority, but this bill would not improve enforcement and raises serious constitutional and other issues.
The EARN IT Act would establish a new government commission tasked with setting “best practices” for online platforms to remove child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on their services. If companies fail to comply with those standards, they could lose their immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and be held directly liable for that user content, a broad threat to freedom of expression online.
Further, these “best practices” could include a requirement that companies provide law enforcement special backdoor access to our private, encrypted communications. Such a demand would undermine both security and human rights. Strong encryption is essential for national security, the economy, and individual liberty, as well as for the rights to privacy and free expression. Not only do we depend on encryption for trust in the systems we use for the basic functions of everyday life, such as banking, those at heightened risk, such as journalists, activists, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and members of other oppressed or marginalized groups, rely on encryption to communicate without fear of surveillance.
A more impactful way to address CSAM would be to better equip law enforcement agencies to investigate by adding more staffing and funding. Indeed, it is our understanding that U.S. law enforcement is currently capable of prosecuting only a small fraction of the cases referred by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“Online child sexual exploitation is abhorrent, and Congress should be looking seriously at ways to address that issue,” said Eric Null, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now. “Unfortunately, the EARN IT Act won’t cut it. The bill is drafted extraordinarily broadly, creating constitutional problems, and it establishes a new commission with the ability to undermine encryption, which could harm millions of innocent people.”
The EARN IT Act would undermine free speech and the security and privacy of all Americans, and we will continue to oppose the bill in collaboration with our partners working in the public interest.
The full text of the letter and its signatories can be found here.