Press Release Platform Competition

EARN IT Act Could Threaten User Privacy and Security

March 5, 2020 ,

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and others plan to shortly introduce the “EARN IT Act,” which conditions Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, with respect to material that sexually exploits children, to platforms that follow a Congressionally appointed committee’s recommended best practices. This process could harm user security and privacy by disincentivizing the use of privacy-protecting technologies such as encryption.

The following can be attributed to John Bergmayer, Legal Director at Public Knowledge:

“Many platforms could do more to prevent the exploitation of children on their services. We are open to legislative ideas that ensure that Section 230 continues to serve its intended purpose, which is to promote legitimate free expression, as well as proposals that protect children and give law enforcement the tools and resources they need to prosecute cases.

“However, we can not support a bill that could discourage the use of privacy-promoting technologies like end-to-end encryption. These technologies protect users of all kinds, including children, members of our armed services, and diverse vulnerable communities. While we appreciate that the bill attempts to ensure that any best practices recommended by the committee it sets up take into account issues of user security and the broader public interest, we remain concerned that either the practices or the underlying standard of ‘recklessness’ could put the thumb on the scale of law enforcement backdoors to communications and other data, which is inconsistent with the requirements of secure communications. 

“Additionally, a process that allows online platforms to regain a liability shield is likely to mostly benefit larger and more dominant platforms who have the resources to certify their compliance. Internet laws should not subject smaller platforms to higher levels of legal risk, as this harms competition and new entry. Among other things, this makes dominant platforms even more likely to be targeted by people who would misuse them.

“We look forward to working with Congress on solutions to the problems this bill seeks to address.” 

View our blog post series on Section 230 to learn more about this important law that allows user-generated content sites, like digital platforms, to operate.