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The EARN IT Act threatens our right to privacy

The EARN IT Act threatens our right to privacy

. 3 min read

Amongst the chaos that is 2020, members of Congress have introduced a bipartisan bill called the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Internet Technologies (shortname, “EARN IT”) Act of 2020 which takes aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“S.230 CDA”) of 1996.

On the surface, The EARN IT Act has been proposed to help combat against the exploitation of children on the internet but in reality, it’s 3 spooks in a trench coat taking aim at everyday citizens private and encrypted communications under the guise of protecting children while placing everyone at risk.

What is the EARN IT Act?

S.230 of the CDA is a piece of internet legislation that provides immunity** to Interactive Computer Services (e.g. twitter, facebook, youtube, reddit) from liability for the content that users post, without the protections that S.230 provides, Internet platforms would be forced to err on the side of caution and over-moderate or face petty litigation.

** this does not apply to federal criminal law, IP law and electronic communications privacy law.

The EARN IT Act would establish a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention which would compromise of 19 members. The commission would be tasked with establishing a set of best practices for companies to adhere to in order to ‘earn’ or maintain their Section 230 status.

What does this have to do with encryption?

There is a long history of the US and allied governments trying to undermine or weaken the general public's access to encryption, this fight has been dubbed the Crypto Wars and most recently, the Department of Justice has been applying pressure to technology companies to abandon the push for end-to-end encryption.

Encryption is the best technology we have to protect information from bad actors (including governments), throughout history people have utilised encryption to scramble messages to protect the content from unintended recipients.

The EARN IT Act isn’t directly calling for backdoors, however, the absence of protections in the bill for privacy or encrypted communications leaves the backdoor and the front door open for the discussion and given that a co-sponsor of the bill, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has previously grilled tech companies over their use of encryption and cooperation with law enforcement officials with on-going investigations; “You’re going to find a way to do this or we’re going to go do it for you”

Why should I care?

Dr Merten Reglitz of the university of Birmingham stated that "Internet access is no luxury, but instead a moral human right and everyone should have unmonitored and uncensored access to this global medium—provided free of charge for those unable to afford it”


We know what happens when we allow governments to undermine our privacy and everyday we are reminded of the chilling effects that FOSTA-SESTA had and continues to have on our community.

During this global crisis, we are seeing governments take full advantage of the fact we are distracted and just trying to survive. Now more than ever access to the Internet is paramount, we must find better ways to combat exploitation than undermining the safety of our entire community.


What can I do?

  1. Email your local representative if you’re in the United States

You can find your senator here listed state by state. The team over at Hacking and Hustling have put together an easy to follow guide of how and who to contact to help ensure that your voice is heard.

The representatives who sponsored this bill are:
Lindsey Graham (Republican)
Richard Blumenthal (Democrat)
Kevin Cramer (Republican)
Diane Feinstein (Democrat)
Josh Hawley (Republican)
Doug Jones (Democrat)
Bob Casey Jr (Democrat)
Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat)
Dick Durbin (Democrat)
Joni Ernst (Republican)

2. Add your name to the Fight for the future petition

https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/dont-let-congress-kill-encryption/

3. PASS IT ON!

Talk about it, tell your friends and get them to do the same!

More Information:

The EARN IT Act bill:
https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/3398/

EFF: What is Encryption?
https://ssd.eff.org/en/module/what-should-i-know-about-encryption

Hacking/Hustling EARN IT Act FAQ
https://hackinghustling.org/earn-it-act/

The EARN IT Act - Bruce Schneier
https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2020/03/the_earn-it_act.html

Tim Berners Lee criticizes any move to weaken encryption:
https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/04/04/web_inventor_opposes_crypto_backdoors/

Signal Developer sends smoke Signal over EARN IT Act
https://www.theregister.co.uk/2020/04/09/signal_earn_it/

Congress proposed anti-child abuse rules to punish web platforms.
https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/5/21162983/congress-senate-earn-it-act-lindsey-graham-richard-blumenthal-section-230-encryption-bill-proposed

EFF on Section 230 protections
https://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal/liability/230

Crypto Wars
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crypto_Wars

Internet Access is a Human Right
https://phys.org/news/2019-11-free-internet-access-basic-human.htmluld

U.S. senators threaten Facebook, Apple with encryption regulation
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-encryption-facebook/u-s-senators-threaten-facebook-apple-with-encryption-regulation-idUSKBN1YE2CK