CEI Scholars Warn EARN IT Act Will Weaken Online Protections

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Today, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act, a bill that ties critical intermediary liability protections for online platforms, known as Section 230, to meeting yet-to-be-determined regulations regarding the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online. While the cause of combating CSAM is critically important, there are reasons to believe this legislation would backfire and is designed to accomplish other goals beyond its stated purpose, such as weakening online privacy protections powered by encryption.

CEI scholars Jessica Melugin and Patrick Hedger offered the following thoughts on the EARN IT Act: 

Jessica Melugin, Associate Director of CEI’s Center for Technology and Innovation: “The EARN IT Act ignores any broader cost-benefit analysis of preserving Section 230, encryption and, ultimately, anonymous speech online. Eroding these protections will be to the detriment of U.S. citizens and undoubtedly end up harming the people this legislation purports to protect. Placing one of the country’s most successful industries under the looming threats of criminal penalties and civil causes of action for failure to jump through subjective regulatory hoops won’t do anything for the U.S. economy, either.”

Patrick Hedger, Research Fellow: “The framework under current law allows for tech companies to voluntarily cooperate with law enforcement to report child sexual exploitation online. This arrangement avoids potentially catastrophic delays in catching bad actors due to Fourth Amendment constraints that the EARN IT Act would inevitably create. Most major platforms already cooperate with law enforcement and have indeed already ‘earned it.’ Thus, the proposed legislation is clearly designed to accomplish things completely beside its stated purpose. It is simply another tool in the broader effort to have government regulate every aspect of the tech sector in minute detail.”