US Senate accused of attacking free speech and security

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.

EFF rouses rabble over .ORG sale

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has officially made its stance over the sale of the valuable .ORG domain registry to private equity firm Ethos Capital.

The deal between the Internet Society and Ethos Capital was initially announced last month, though the completion of the $1.135 billion transaction has been delayed, partly thanks to the vocal opposition from the likes of the EFF.

“Non-governmental organizations all over the world rely on the .ORG top-level domain,” EFF states in a letter to Internet Society CEO Andrew Sullivan.

“Decisions affecting .ORG must be made with the consultation of the NGO community, overseen by a trusted community leader. If the Internet Society (ISOC) can no longer be that leader, it should work with the NGO community and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to find an appropriate replacement.”

The concern from the EFF is financially driven. Should Ethos Capital be permitted to acquire the Public Interest Registry (PIR), the EFF believes the influence it wields may well threaten the concept of free speech.

The sale to Ethos Capital follows ICANN’s decision to remove price caps on registration fees for .ORG names. Ethos Capital now has the freedom to effectively charge whatever it pleases, as well as the ability to creates features which include ‘protections for the rights of third parties’. EFF argues these protections are often used as a justification and legal cover for censorship.

Aside from the EFF objections, the Packet Clearing House (PCH) recently suggested a sale to a private company would have a “disastrous effect on stability”, as less money would be spent on operational demands. Few will be concerned that The Girl Scouts of North America’s website is a bit twitchy, but .ORG is also used for air traffic control, containment of communicable disease, and verification of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The sale itself has proven to be very controversial in the internet community, though calls to ICANN to block the transaction may well fall on deaf ears. The organisation has already said it cannot do anything to deter the deal unless it impacts security or the stability of the internet.

On the other side of the coin, this could prove to be a very good bit of business for Ethos Capital. According to PCH, operational costs for the .ORG domain is roughly $30 million a year and it brings in revenues of $100 million. Prices vary, though if Ethos Capital was to double the cost of the .ORG domain, it would certainly still be tolerable. Purchasing .ORG for as little as $1.135 billion might prove to be a very clever bit of business.