July 3, 2020
A bill seeking to prohibit the exploitation of minors on the Internet July 2 was sent to the floor of the U.S. Senate for a full vote. While there is no argument against removing images of child abuse from the Web, technology and trade organizations contend the “Eliminating Abuse and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technology” (Earn It) Act — introduced in March by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — could undermine user encryption safeguards and hold platforms such as Facebook and Google-owned YouTube liable for video images distributed by third parties.
Indeed, the bill would enable U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr to force tech companies to bypass encryption found on cell phones, computers and portable media devices for law enforcement purposes.
“The Earn It Act could end user privacy as we know it,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement. “Tech companies that provide private, encrypted messaging could have to rewrite their software to allow police special access to their users’ messages.”
Graham later issued a statement stressing the bill would not undermine existing encryption safeguards.
‘The goal here is not to outlaw encryption … that will be a debate for another day,” Graham said.
Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, said the bill would stifle legal online speech and harm American competitiveness.
“Rather than targeting the actual problem and giving prosecutors the resources to lock up [sex] offenders, the EARN IT Act would promote lawsuits against legitimate Internet companies,” Shapiro said.
He said the bill would allow states to create a “patchwork quilt” of civil and criminal liability without specifying a “knowledge” standard.
“We appreciate the Senate Judiciary Committee’s interest in fighting child exploitation and believe the committee should pursue more effective measures,” Shapiro said. “There is nothing in existing law … that prevents the Department of Justice from bringing charges against abusers right now.”