The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has suggested a new bill designed to protect children online is a nothing but a thin veil to undermine free speech and security.
The EARN IT Act, championed by Senators Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal, would create a new agency tasked with developing best practices to tackle online exploitation. Some of these elements would be directed towards the owners of internet platforms, though the EFF argues there are few benefits to the headline objective but serious consequences to free speech and online security.
“While we applaud Congress’ desire to address the sexual exploitation of children online, a more effective way to address that crisis would be to better equip law enforcement agencies to investigate it by adding staffing and funding to more effectively use their current lawful investigative tools,” the EFF said in an open letter to Congress.
Firstly, the EFF has suggested the bill would not benefit the case against online child exploitation. With vague and nuanced language, the EFF suggests there are no meaningful steps forward, and it would not result in aiding organizations that support victims or equipping law enforcement agencies with resources to investigate claims of child exploitation.
Secondly, the EFF claims the bill would seek to regulate how platforms manage online speech. As editorial activities of internet platforms are protected from government interference by the First Amendment, this would be in violation of the US Constitution.
Finally, the EFF believes the bill is another attack on the industry standard security systems which is end-to-end encryption. Numerous governments around the world have attempted to legislate against end-to-end encryption, despite the fact it is a very effective security feature for the consumer, and this is allegedly another attempt to do so.
Progress does need to be made to ensure the internet is a safe place for everyone and anyone, but such attempts to legislate need to be considered and measured. The EFF has a way of exaggerating the potential impact, but it does not necessarily mean it is wrong.