Encryption To Become a Thing of the Past

A group of lawmakers led by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, along with 19 cosponsors (9 of which are Republicans), have reintroduced the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT), S. 3538, an incredibly unpopular bill from 2020 that was dropped in the face of overwhelming opposition.  Representatives Ann Wagner R-MO and Sylvia Garcia, D-TX also introduced HR 6544 in the House with 3 Republican cosponsors.

Proponents of the Act would have us believe that they need new tools to prosecute cases of child sexual abuse but, processing, viewing or distributing child sexual abuse material is already written into law as a very serious crime with a broad array of laws to eradicate it.  

Let’s be clear: this legislation isn’t about protecting our children, it is about paving the way for a massive new surveillance system, run by private companies, that would roll back some of the most important privacy and security features in technology used by people around the globe.  It’s a nothing more than a framework for private actors to scan every message sent online.  And like most surveillance laws, it will not end there.  The EARN IT Act could and probably will ensure that anything hosted online— personal messages, backups, websites, cloud photos, documents and more—is scanned.

The bill empowers every US state or territory to create sweeping new internet regulations by stripping away the critical legal protections for websites and apps.  States will be allowed to pass whatever type of law they want to hold private companies liable, as long as they somehow tie these new laws to online child abuse. It will give them unlimited power over websites, both large and small, putting encryption providers in an awful conundrum – either face the possibility of losing everything, whether through prosecutor or costly litigation, or undermine users’ security by making everyone one vulnerable to online criminals.

Even the ACLU and Americans for Prosperity recognize a con when they see it.  They issued a joint statement opposing the Act, calling it a disaster for on-line speech and privacy rights. “It poses a serious threat to the safety of millions of people who rely on encryption to freely express themselves and exchange ideas, including the ability to freely express criticism of governmental actions.

Any threat to encryption is a threat to the privacy and safety of every American.  When companies weaken encryption for U.S. consumers, they are poorly positioned to resist requests by foreign governments to apply the same standards to products abroad.  Encryption also safeguards domestic violence victims, allows journalists to communicate with confidential sources, and protects our military and national security in conflict zones. 

In addition to undermining encryption, the bill poses serious dangers to online free speech by requiring platforms to engage in broad content moderation practices or lose the protections from liability.”

EARN IT targets every individual internet user, treating us all like potential criminals who deserve to have every single message, photograph and document scanned and checked against a government database.  And, since direct government surveillance would be blatantly unconstitutional and provoke public outrage, our elected representatives, and I use that term loosely, plan on using Tech companies to do their dirty work.

This bill is being fast-tracked to shove it through both houses of Congress as quickly as possible, and I’m deeply afraid that with Republican support, this time it will succeed where its predecessor didn’t.

There’s still time, though, to stop it.  Contact your Representatives and Senators to voice your opinion.  But, whether it passes or not, remember who supports EARN IT when you go to the polls in November. 

Source:  Senate Bill Creates Massive Surveillance Program to Scan All of Your Online Messages, The Free Thought Project; THE EARN IT ACT IS BACK, AND IT’S MORE DANGEROUS THAN EVER, Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law

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