Congress introduces EARN IT Act, which would end encryption programs but violates the Constitution

“EARN IT is anti-speech, anti-security, and anti-innovation. Congress must reject it.”


Sen. Lindsey Graham, along with Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would break encryption communications. The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT Act) would force technology companies to kill encryption programs that prevent hackers, law enforcement officers and many others from accessing private online communication systems.

Authored by Sen. Graham, EARN IT Act is said to be legislation to protect children from online exploitation, but Fight for the Future called the new legislation “a thinly-veiled excuse to destroy privacy protections for everyday people.”

“They have routinely lied and misled the public about their activities and their intentions,” Fight for the Future said in a petition. “Now they want us to earn our right to privacy and our right free speech online. But these rights don’t need to be earned; they are protected by the Constitution.”

If passed, the act will create a “National Commission on Online Child Exploitation Prevention” (NCOCEP), which will construct rules that “internet companies must follow in order to continue being eligible for protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act” at the hands of Attorney General William Barr, Privacy News Online reported. Under Section 230 passed in 1996, online platforms (“providers” of “interactive computer services”) “mostly can’t be held liable for the things their users say and do on the platform,” Riana Pfefferkorn from The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University, explained.

Since “there’s already an existing federal statutory scheme criminalizing child sex abuse material (CSAM) and imposing duties on providers, and it already allows providers to be held accountable for CSAM on their services,” there is no need to amend Section 230,” Pfefferkorn said.

But the EARN IT Act would force tech companies like Facebook to “build backdoors into their encryption,” Privacy News Online reported, becoming a gateway for the “bad guys as well as the good guys.”

“Encryption is inexorably tied to our national interests,” Senator Ron Wyden (D–OR) said. “You can’t only build a backdoor for the good guys … Once you weaken encryption with a backdoor, you make it far easier for criminals and hackers and predators to get into your digital life.”

Human rights advocates call to put an end to the EARN IT Act because it violates the First and Fourth Amendments and puts Americans at risk of surveillance, censorship and human rights abuses.

“This bill is trying to convert your anger at Big Tech into law enforcement’s long-desired dream of banning strong encryption,” Pfefferkorn said. “It is a bait-and-switch. Don’t fall for it.”

Outlined in the Fight for the Future’s petition, encryption protects secure systems from hackers, protects the public from invasive surveillance, allows for freedom of speech and the right to privacy.

“The bill’s ultimate intent is to penalize those companies for protecting your privacy and data security,” Pfefferkorn said. “That’s something that tech companies have been legally allowed to do for a quarter-century, and we can’t afford to stop them from doing it. Encryption should be encouraged, not punished.”


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