The EARN IT Act: "A Sneaky Attempt to End Encryption"
From Casey Newton's 3-12-20 The Verge article entitled "A Sneaky Attempt to End Encryption Is Worming Its Way Through Congress":
risk of having the world pay attention to a single, all-consuming story
is that less important but still urgent stories are missed along the
way. One such unfolding story in our domain is the (deep breath)
Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies
(“EARN IT”) Act, which was the subject of a Senate hearing on Wednesday. Here’s Alfred Ng with an explainer in CNET:
The EARN IT Act was
introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (Republican of South Carolina) and
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Democrat of Connecticut), along with Sen. Josh
Hawley (Republican of Missouri) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Democrat of
California) on March 5.
premise of the bill is that technology companies have to earn Section
230 protections rather than being granted immunity by default, as the
Communications Decency Act has provided for over two decades.
starters, it’s not clear that companies have to “earn” what are already
protections provided under the First Amendment: to publish, and to
allow their users to publish, with very few legal restrictions. But if
the EARN IT Act were passed, tech companies could be held liable if
their users posted illegal content. This would represent a significant
and potentially devastating amendment to Section 230, a much-misunderstood law that many consider a pillar of the internet and the businesses that operate on top of it.
internet companies become liable for what their users post, those
companies aggressively moderate speech. This was the chief outcome of
FOSTA-SESTA, the last bill Congress passed to amend Section 230. It was
putatively written to eliminate sex trafficking, and was passed into law
after Facebook endorsed it. I wrote about the aftermath in October:
law] threatens any website owner with up to 10 years in prison for
hosting even one instance of prostitution-related content. As a result,
sites like Craigslist removed their entire online personals sections.
Sex workers who had previously been working as their own bosses were driven back onto the streets, often forced to work for pimps. Prostitution-related crime in San Francisco alone — including violence against workers — more than tripled.
evidence that the law reduced sex trafficking is suspiciously hard to
come by. And there is little reason to believe that the EARN IT Act will
be a greater boon to public life.