On May 2, the Center for Democracy & Technology joined 132 LGBTQ+ and other human rights organizations, urging Congress to oppose the latest iteration of the flawed EARN IT Act. It strongly threatens encryption & free speech while making it harder to protect children from online abuse.

In the letter addressed to Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Graham, and members of the Committee, CDT said that it supports curbing the scourge of child exploitation online. “However, EARN IT will instead make it harder for law enforcement to protect children. It will also result in online censorship that will disproportionately impact marginalized communities. In addition, EARN IT will jeopardize access to encrypted services, undermining a critical foundation of security, confidentiality, and safety on the Internet.”

The letter said that many organizations and experts had repeatedly warned the committee of these risks when the bill was previously considered, and those risks are still intact.

CDT requested the committee to oppose the bill.

EARN IT will repeal intermediaries’ Section 230 liability shield for any state criminal and civil law prohibiting the distribution or presentation of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM).  Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 allows for the users of media sources to post their own content.  This affects intermediaries from ‘Letters to the Editor’ sections of newspapers to social media.   Current law requires intermediaries to report these instances of CSAM, resulting in millions of reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children every year. EARN IT would vastly expand the liability risk of hosting or facilitating user-generated content by permitting states to impose criminal liability when intermediaries are “reckless” or “negligent” in keeping CSAM off their platforms; EARN IT also exposes them to civil liability under state laws with similar requirements with respect to the provider’s mental state but subject to much lower standards of proof.