Senators Graham And Blumenthal Can't Even 'Earn' The EARN IT Act: Looking To Sneak Vote Through Without Debate

from the don't-let-them dept

Senator Lindsey Graham very badly wants to push the extremely dangerous EARN IT Act across the finish line. He’s up for re-election this fall, and wants to burnish his “I took on big tech” creds, and sees EARN IT as his path to grandstanding glory. Never mind the damage it will do to basically every one. While the bill was radically changed via his manager’s amendment last month, it’s still an utter disaster that puts basically everything we hold dear about the internet at risk. It will allow for some attacks on encryption and (somewhat bizarrely) will push other services to more fully encrypt. For those that don’t do that, there will still be new limitations on Section 230 protections and, very dangerously, it will create strong incentives for internet companies to collect more personal information about every one of their users to make sure they’re complying with the law.

It’s a weird way to “attack” the power of big tech by forcing them to collect and store more of your private info. But, hey, it’s not about what’s actually in the bill. It’s about whatever bullshit narrative Graham and others know the press will say is in the bill.

Either way, we’ve heard that Graham and his bi-partisan supporter for EARN IT, Senator Richard Blumenthal, are looking to rush EARN IT through with no debate, via a process known as hotlining. Basically, it’s a way to try to get around any floor debate, by asking every Senator’s office (by email, apparently!) if they would object to a call for unanimous consent. If no Senator objects, then they basically know they can skip debate and get the bill approved. If Senators object, then (behind the scenes) others can start to lean on (or horse trade) with the Senators to get the objections to go away without it all having to happen on the floor of the Senate. In other words, Graham and Blumenthal are recognizing that they probably can’t “earn” the EARN IT Act if it has to go through the official process to have it debated and voted on on the floor, and instead are looking to sneak it through when no one’s looking.

While Senator Wyden (once again) has said he’ll do whatever he can to to block this, it would help if other Senators would stand up as well. Here’s what Wyden had to say about it:

The EARN IT Act will not protect children. It will not stop the spread of child sexual abuse material, nor target the monsters who produce and share it, and it will not help the victims of these evil crimes. What it will do is threaten the free speech, privacy, and security of every single American. This is because, at its core, the amended EARN IT Act magnifies the failures of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act–SESTA–and its House companion, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act–FOSTA. Experts believe that SESTA/FOSTA has done nothing to help victims or stop sex trafficking, while creating collateral damage for marginalized communities and the speech of all Americans. A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of FOSTA on First Amendment grounds is proceeding through the courts, and there is bicameral Federal legislation to study the widespread negative impacts of the bill on marginalized groups.

Yet, the authors of the EARN IT Act decided to take this kind of carveout and expand it further to State civil and criminal statutes. By allowing any individual State to set laws for internet content, this bill would create massive uncertainty, both for strong encryption and constitutionally protected speech online. What is worse, the flood of State laws that could potentially arise under the EARN IT Act raises strong Fourth Amendment concerns, meaning that any CSAM evidence collected could be rendered inadmissible in court and accused CSAM offenders could get off scot-free. This is not a risk that I am willing to take.

Let me be clear: The proliferation of these heinous crimes against children is a serious problem. However, for these reasons and more, the EARN IT Act is not the solution. Moreover, it ignores what Congress can and should be doing to combat this heinous crime. The U.S. has a number of important evidence-based programs in existence that are proven to keep kids safe, and they are in desperate need of funding to do their good work. Yet the EARN IT Act doesn’t include a single dollar of funding for these important programs. It is time for the U.S. Government to spend the funds necessary to save children’s lives now.

While a Wyden hold would block any attempt to get unanimous consent via the hotlining process, it would help quite a lot if other Senators were willing to speak up and stand with him as well. If it’s just Wyden, then he’ll face tremendous pressure to remove the hold. If more Senators join Wyden in saying this isn’t okay, then Graham and Blumenthal will realize they have a bigger challenge in front of them.

Again, if you haven’t been following this debate closely, everything that Wyden says above is accurate. EARN IT is an attack on both free speech and privacy (a twofer) without doing anything to actually deal with the problem of child sexual abuse material online. That is very much a law enforcement issue, and it’s one which Congress has failed to provide the funds to law enforcement that it promised on this issue, and (even worse) the DOJ has simply ignored its requirement mandates to deal with this issue as required by Congress. The DOJ seems more focused on attacking tech companies and blaming them for its own failure to do its job.

The EARN IT Act is an incredibly dangerous piece of legislation, but it’s also a complicated one — one that many people don’t understand. But Senators see something that says “protect the children” and they immediately think “well, of course we support that.” But this bill doesn’t protect children. It attacks free speech and privacy online in very insidious ways. Please call your Senators and ask them not to let this through.

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Comments on “Senators Graham And Blumenthal Can't Even 'Earn' The EARN IT Act: Looking To Sneak Vote Through Without Debate”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Children's Welfare

This is one of the oldest clichés in the book. If a bill isn’t about actual children’s welfare matters such as providing school lunches or shelters from domestic abuse, and yet it is being pushed to protect the children our officials should be applying a healthy dose of skepticism before passing it.

I’m still sore about Malaysia’s TIP Report score was magically reduced from 3 to 2 in order to get the TPP passed. (The TPP was a horror that would enforce US IP law across the Pacific hemisphere. It was killed in 2017 by Trump soon after he entered office.) But the maneuver showed how few fucks the federal government gives about child sex slavery when the little girls aren’t ours.

There are plenty of ways the US could really help its kids and keep them further from harms way regarding sex trafficking, and it doesn’t even try, focusing most of its efforts on, instead, preventing the abortion of fetuses not even born yet…or using sex trafficking to justify driving internet traffic further underground with laws like EARN IT.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Good reason for their constituents to call/email them and remind them what happened the last time a bill aimed at undermining internet platforms was rushed through in that case, along with a friendly reminder that mucking around with internet platforms that hundreds of millions in the US alone interact with might not go over too well with voters

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well pretty sure they will fail at that, there are atleast 4 senators that are likely to object.

So far that is not the case. We’ve heard that only Wyden has objected. There is some expectation that Paul will object as well, but he doesn’t seem all that concerned. There is no indication at all that Sanders or Warren will object. It would be nice if they did, but they have not suggested they will so far.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t think they will get a unanimous consent vote. Wyden does not seem to be the type to just bow to pressure especially regarding a provision of the CDA that he authored. If they don’t get a unanimous consent vote, I don’t see this passing before the election, too much debate, potential amendments, and still needs to get through the house.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Re: Re: [ Call your Senator]

The best thing you can do at the moment is to call your Senator.

  • Let them know that you are aware of this bill.
  • Let them know that you know just what a dumpster fire it is.
  • Let them know that you know that Graham is trying to hotline it.
  • Let them know that you expect them to show some backbone and join Senator Wyden in putting a hold on it.

They are counting on their constituents not even knowing about this bill, and if they do, not really caring.

(I do and I have)

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’d be surprised if even his mother could stand him. As republicans go Lindsey Graham is one of those bottom-scraping opportunistic muck dwellers who appears to have no priority but whichever one will currently further his career.

Remember how he went from, in less than a year, screaming about Trump being a deranged and malicious maniac to hailing him as the second coming, once Trump was in office?

The democrat version if him would be Biden, but with added helpings of shameless hysteria and an even blunter flip-flop mentality.

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