The EARN IT Act Threatens Privacy and Free Speech Again

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The EARN IT Act Threatens Privacy and Free Speech Again

The US Congress is once again debating the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies a.k.a. EARN IT Act (S.1207/H.R.2732).

It would bring massive changes to the internet, removing encryption and allowing universal scanning of messages, photos, and files.

EARN IT is back

After the Senate fought it off in 2020 and 2022, the EARN IT Act is back. It’s an attempt to establish a government commission that would come up with “best practices” to remove child sexual abuse material (CSAM) from the internet.

The new Act would give state legislatures unprecedented power to access any piece of data they want. In other words, the government would have access to everyone’s messages and entire websites.

All companies would have to comply with the new standards or risk losing the immunity they have under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. In that case, the authorities would hold them directly responsible for user content.

This would put businesses that use encryption in a very difficult position. They would have to decide whether they want to undermine their privacy practices or face lawsuits.

It’s natural to assume that many would choose the former, making everyone on the web more vulnerable, including children.

Millions of people in the US use services that offer encryption. They do so in an attempt to secure their daily online activities. In case the EARN IT Act passes the Senate, this would become impossible.

The backlash

Although tackling child exploitation online is critical, security experts and the general public have expressed their concerns over the act. Over 130 human rights and similar organizations have called on Congress to oppose it.

Those opposing the Act believe it would fail in its mission and create all sorts of new problems. They say EARN TI would undermine the free speech, security, and privacy of all people in the country.

Additionally, it could potentially undermine the authorities’ ability to protect children and adults online. Their stance is also that it would censor free speech online and negatively impact diverse communities.

Previously, the authorities have used unencrypted digital evidence to file lawsuits against abortion patients in states that have made the procedure illegal. 

In case the EARN IT Act passes the Senate, they’d be able to do the same in any situation, and they’d have access to encrypted messages as well. In other words, no means of communication online would remain entirely private.

Louisiana has recently introduced Act 440, making it more difficult for users to access adult-only sites without passing an ID verification. As a result, the daily VPN demand in the state has surged once again.

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