EARN IT’s full name is the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act.
The bill would remove important protections granted by the Communications Decency Act (section 230). The rules currently in place broadly protect platforms from being liable for what users say on them; instead, the person who said it is responsible. Practically, this means that platforms can offer their services to us without pre-filtering or monitoring our every post. This protects us from blanket censorship on large platforms, and is critical to the existence of small startup or alternative platforms, who can’t provide unlimited moderation. A consequence is that section 230 protection is one of the only defences we have to stop the Internet from being even more deeply controlled by a handful of deep pocketed multi-billion dollar corporations.3
Since first being introduced, the bill has been heavily amended to make it sound more palatable, and to help it pass more easily out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But these amendments don’t go anywhere near far enough to provide any real protection for our safety and privacy online.
Under the guise of protecting children from harm online, the EARN IT Act originally called for an unelected board that would create rules which platforms would need to follow to “earn” their section 230 protections. The amended version would give State lawmakers the power to create new laws allowing private lawsuits and criminal prosecutions against Internet platforms, as long as they say their purpose is to stop crimes against children.4
It’s well known that Attorney General William Barr has a long history of attacking encryption and has frequently called for service providers to compromise their users’ security.5
It’s clear that Barr would try to use EARN IT to pressure platforms to stop offering the end-to-end encryption that keeps our communications safe and private. While an amendment has been made which prohibits holding companies liable because they use “end-to-end encryption, the bill itself still encourages lawmakers to seek loopholes to undermine encryption, and the amendment doesn’t rule out ‘client side scanning’ which would allow selected messages to be sent to government.
This is highly irresponsible and unsafe - especially with so many of us now working remotely and using the Internet to communicate and do business, more than at any other time in history.
Stand up to this transparent attack on our privacy and security. A vote on this bill is coming up very soon. If we can reach enough Senators, we can stop this bill dead in its tracks. Send your message now!