Senators Hawley & Feinstein Join Graham & Blumenthal In Announcing Bill To Undermine Both Encryption And Section 230

from the for-the-children dept

In late January, we had an analysis of an absolutely dreadful bill proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal — both with a long history of attacking the internet — called the EARN IT Act. The crux of the bill was that, in the name of “protecting the children,” the bill would drastically change Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, making companies liable for “recklessly” failing to magically stop “child sexual abuse material” — opening them up to civil lawsuits for any such failures. Even worse, it would enable the Attorney General — who has made it quite clear that he hates encryption — to effectively force companies to build in security-destroying backdoors.

On Thurdsay, the EARN IT Act (Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act) was officially introduced with two additional awful Senators: from the Republican side there’s tech hating Josh Hawley, and on the Democratic side, there’s encryption hating Dianne Feinstein.

This version of the bill has a few changes from the draft version that made the rounds before, but in effect it is trying to accomplish the same basic things: forcing companies to backdoor encryption or lose Section 230 protections, while at the same time opening up platforms to a wide range of lawsuits (a la what we’re seeing with FOSTA suits) from ambulance chasing tort lawyers trying to shake down internet platforms for money, while claiming to do so in the name of “protecting the children.”

Senator Ron Wyden, who authored Section 230 decades ago, had the most succinct explanation of why the EARN IT Act is bad on multiple levels:

After the federal government spent years ignoring the law and millions of reports of the most heinous crimes against children, William Barr, Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal are offering a deeply flawed and counterproductive bill in response.

This terrible legislation is a Trojan horse to give Attorney General Barr and Donald Trump the power to control online speech and require government access to every aspect of Americans’ lives. It is a desperate attempt to distract from the Justice Department’s failure to request the manpower, funding and resources to combat this scourge, despite clear direction from Congress more than a decade ago.

While Section 230 does nothing to stop the federal government from prosecuting crimes, these senators claim that making it easier to sue websites is somehow going to stop pedophiles.

This bill is a transparent and deeply cynical effort by a few well-connect corporations and the Trump administration to use child sexual abuse to their political advantage, the impact to free speech and the security and privacy of every single American be damned.

There are a number of key points on this, starting with the fact that Barr’s DOJ has consistently failed to do what it’s mandated by Congress to do in fighting against child sexual exploitation. Any news story that fails to mention this key point is failing you in not explaining the context. Barr is looking for someone to blame for his own failures, and he’s picked on the politically convenient internet industry — while simultaneously getting to undermine the encryption he hates.

Another key point in the Wyden statement is that much of the EARN IT Act is dubious and cynical, but as Berin Szoka pointed out, this is likely to make stopping actual sexual exploitation that much more difficult:

?Perversely, the EARN IT Act makes it easier to sue websites than people who actually create and disseminate CSAM,? explained Sz?ka. ?Facing potentially staggering civil liability means website providers will have no choice but to comply with the Commission?s nominally voluntary ?best practices.??

In that same link, Berin highlights another Constitutional problem with the Act, which could make it much more difficult for law enforcement to track down those actually responsible for child porn — a perverse end result, which is not unlike what we’ve already seen happen with sex trafficking in response to FOSTA, where police have been saying that the law has made it more difficult for them to investigate trafficking.

This is a bad bill, put forth for cynical reasons, wrapped in a insincere “protect the children” blanket — pushed for by a crew of companies who failed to innovate on the internet, and sponsored by Senators who have a long history of making it clear that they will beat up on civil liberties and innovation at any opportunity.

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Comments on “Senators Hawley & Feinstein Join Graham & Blumenthal In Announcing Bill To Undermine Both Encryption And Section 230”

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Control of the internet

No, they’ll drive it underground.

Essentially they’ll force the rest of us to use the same tools that are used by terrorists (that is, out-of-favor political groups) and the CSAM community to stay invisible.

And it will remind us who the allies of the public are, namely anarchists, lunatics and terrorists.

I guess it will help them disappear more dissidents and give some of us jobs making sure commerce can continue and end users can get their porn of preference.

mcinsand says:

Re: the problem with 'doing something,' or problems, rather

All too many of the politicians and the public cry "we have to do something," to say that doing nothing is not an option. No, that is not true. When faced with the choice of doing nothing versus doing something stupid, doing nothing is the better choice.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: the problem with 'doing something,' or problems, rather

Oh would I love it if some/all politicians had the spine to actually point that out…

‘Something terrible has happened/been brought up, why aren’t you Doing Something?!’

‘I am, I’m refusing to make the situation worse by jumping on board with poorly thought out legislation that’s nothing but a PR stunt at best, a dishonest way to sneak through legislation that couldn’t be passed honestly at worst.’

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Stop it in it's tracks.

The rhetoric needed to defeat this piece of shit bill is that it is anti free speech (Section 230 protects the places where we are allowed to speak and without those protections our ability to speak on the Internet will be greatly diminished) and that messing with encryption will make privacy (as well as our ability to bank or do commerce online) a thing of the past.

This will impact not only banks but big commerce companies (like Amazon, but many others as well) and make identity theft much more prevalent. It will also cause various businesses to move out of the United States so that they would not be impacted by these laws, though they would also lose all their US customers because those people will be impacted.

So it is necessary to let constituents know how these laws will impact them, as law abiding citizens, regardless how much the politicians claim it is only to go after ‘bad guy’s’. This needs to be done with great volume and with a great deal of repetition. Congress needs to know, from their constituents that voting for these measures will have consequences for their future political careers.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'No really, we promise we really will care this time!'

After the federal government spent years ignoring the law and millions of reports of the most heinous crimes against children, William Barr, Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal are offering a deeply flawed and counterproductive bill in response.

That point really needs to be hammered home every single time one of the opportunistic scum pushing this try to hide behind ‘for the children’. They already have tools available to go after that sort of activity but they couldn’t be bothered to actually do so, which makes it crystal clear that this has absolutely nothing to do with victimized children and everything to do with trying to undermine 230 and encryption where previous attempts have failed.

From from trying to ‘protect’ the children they are hiding behind like the gutless cowards they are they are instead turning them into nothing more than props, something to hold up to try to deflect well earned criticism, showing just how low they are willing to sink to get their way.

I’d say every last one of them should feel crippled with shame over such a repulsive action but at this point I can only assume that they are literally incapable of feeling that emotion.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 'No really, we promise we really will care this time

You underestimate the gross dishonestly of those involved.

‘See, even they admit that it’s a problem if they’re taking steps to deal with it, all this bill will do is to provide guidelines to help them along and deal with those that might not be Doing Enough.’

ECA (profile) says:


But, lets do it to THEM FIRST..
lets require all of Congress to have All Encryption on all computer related devices REMOVED for the next year or 2..
Everything from Blue tooth, Wireless, wifi, all of it.
AND all wire taping protections..removed.

Who/what is going to happen if they remove it publicly??
All your data would be subjected to scanning and Collection..
lets add 1 thing on top.
Proof of ID.. how to prove its your phone. Or Whose it belong to.
With out protections, you could install all the FAKE ID you want. Do anything you wanted, and just drop it on the street.

Throw away phones, and the internet..even Smart pay as you go phones..on the net. HOW to Prove who is using the phone?

then make the Sit owners Liable..??
How would you like to Spit on someones world and not Catch anyone?? A picture is uploaded and someone gets upset and Google is in court cause ?? posted it, on ?? site, which belongs to ?? corp and Google owns the servers.. How far away from real is it to get to the person who posted it??
By the time Stuff gets figures out on googles side the person is GONE..hard to trace, made other accounts..

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Anonymous Coward says:

its strange this anti encryption bill is proposed when so many local government database,s are being attacked by malware and ransomware attacks.
This bill is sponsored by old legacy companys who do not use the web to provide service,s ,ok lets wipe out startups that compete with us by making it possible for trolls to sue them .
Section 230 is the law that allows free speech on the web ,if its weakened
it will block ordinary people from discussing politics,or other subjects
on the web and also effect minoritys who have no where else to make their
views known.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Dear AC..if thats your real name.
There are a few sites that show now BIG, the hacking and lost data is. Tons of Doctors are being hacked, Many other business’s.

Then the big server farms being hacked, is totally stupid. In that the amounts of data are HUGE, and someone/automated Sysop, LETS them sit on the server Downloading Everything..

Its so funny, that 90% of this is Cutting your IT staff, automating the Automation, and not understanding that Humans can see things happening that were NOT int he programming.. Then they get replaced, cause someone they created a new Automatic program..

From the old school, the server Logged and printed all access and when they logged off, and you Could have a list of files they looked at/Downloaded/Touched/opened..
To much info?? for a IT person thats making $10 per hour?? YEP.

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

blocking ordinary people from discussing politics

It will block ordinary people from discussing politics in the open.

Rather it will take everyone to the anonymous darknet where radicals and extremists have a voice, and people can openly discuss actually assassinating supreme court justices and unimpeachable presidents (to cite some innocent, blue-sky examples).

This is to say, ordinary people may freely incite violent change, or have to confront the actual reasons we do not.

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