The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the 30-year-old advocacy group that has been a pioneer in defending digital civil liberties, sent a letter this week to the United States Senate, opposing the controversial EARN IT Act -- which the EFF says will
result in online censorship that will disproportionately impact marginalized communities, will jeopardize access to encrypted services, and will place at risk the prosecutions of the very abusers the law is meant to catch.
Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2020, or EARN IT, is designed to roll back protections for online platforms under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Section 230 is widely considered the First
Amendment of the Internet. As AVN reported last month, the law is not only the backbone of open online communications, but for adult content online as well.
Efforts to roll back Section 230 protection will have a significant
adverse impact on the adult entertainment industry if passed, First Amendment attorney Lawrence Walters told AVN in August. Any change to Section 230 could result in restrictive content moderation rules or elimination of the platforms themselves.
Platforms would be required to earn the protections currently afforded by Section 230 by following a set of vaguely defined best practices to prevent illegal activities, specifically sex trafficking and Child Sex Abuse Material
(CSAM), if EARN IT passes.
Under EARN IT, states will be free to impose any liability standard they please on platforms, including holding platforms liable for CSAM they did not actually know was present on their services, EFF
warned in its letter to the Senate. Nothing in the bill would prevent a state from passing a law in the future holding a provider criminally responsible under a 'reckless' or 'negligence' standard.
In other words, under EARN IT,
state governments could punish online platforms for almost anything that could be broadly interpreted as CSAM or Sex trafficking, even bringing criminal charges against site operators. The dangers for the adult industry are clear if states are allowed to
define a wide range of sexual content as promoting sex trafficking.
But sex worker advocacy groups have also warned that the EARN IT law could lead to increased surveillance of workers in the sex industry. EFF also addresses the
surveillance threat in its letter to the Senate.
End-to-end encryption ensures the privacy and security of sensitive communications such that only the sender and receiver can view them, the group wrote. But the EARN IT Act
threatens to undermine and disincentivize providers from providing strong encryption.
The EFF compares EARN IT to a previous sex trafficking law, FOSTA/SESTA, which is the only law so far passed that actually curtails Section 230
protections, in cases when sites are deemed to promote online sex trafficking. But that law had the opposite effect from its stated intention.
Instead, it has forced sex workers, whether voluntarily engaging in sex work or forced
into sex trafficking against their wills, offline and into harm's way, EFF wrote. It has also chilled their online expression generally, including the sharing of health and safety information, and speech wholly unrelated to sex work.
In the letter, EFF urges the Senate not to fast track the EARN IT bill -- and to vote it down if or when it finally comes before the entire Senate. The bill passed through the Judiciary Commitee in July.
Computer security investigators have long held that the TikTok app is a Trojan horse in that it offers a popular platform for sharing short videos whilst aggressively snooping on its users. For instance it was recently found to be grabbing passwords for
other applications as they pass through the paste buffer from password managers to apps.
President Trump's administration had set a deadline that the Chinese app be sold to a US company that can sort out the security issues.
ByteDance have indeed done a deal to partner with the US company Oracle. However the deal does not allow Oracle to get to see or control the app's software and to address US security concerns,
So the US has announced that beginning Sunday, it will
be illegal to host or transfer internet traffic associated with WeChat and TikTok. The Trump administration is currently weighing a proposal involving ByteDance, TikTok's Chinese parent, and Oracle, designed to resolve the administration's national
security concerns related to TikTok; the deadline for a deal is Nov. 12.
Boulder County, Colorado officials have taken down a black covering that had been draped over a statue depicting a Union Civil War soldier as claiming to be part of an art installation.
Morey Bean claimed his art's intention was to bring to light the
injustices inflicted on Native Americans, while showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Bean said he had applied for permit for his work and was not willing to remove the cover anytime soon. Bean commented:
I think it's institutional censorship, Bean said. It's a comfortable lie that they just don't want to have told. I think everybody, to a great degree, wants to get back to business as usual and that means no controversy. That means
sticking with the history we are comfortable with.
Michelle Krezek, the chief of staff for the Boulder County Commissioners' Office, said the installation was removed based on the fact that the use of county property use permit Bean
obtained was only for one day. The county is storing the covering for him, until he communicates what he would like done with it.
US Attorneys General from 20 different states have sent a letter urging Facebook to do a better job at censoring content. They wrote:
We, the undersigned State Attorneys General, write to request that you take additional
steps to prevent Facebook from being used to spread disinformation and hate and to facilitate discrimination. We also ask that you take more steps to provide redress for users who fall victim to intimidation and harassment, including violence and digital
As part of our responsibilities to our communities, Attorneys General have helped residents navigate Facebook's processes for victims to address abuse on its platform. While Facebook has--on
occasion--taken action to address violations of its terms of service in cases where we have helped elevate our constituents' concerns, we know that everyday users of Facebook can find the process slow, frustrating, and ineffective. Thus, we write to
highlight positive steps that Facebook can take to strengthen its policies and practices.
The letter was written by the Attorneys General of New Jersey, Illinois, and District of Columbia, and addressed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO
Sheryl Sandberg. It was cos-signed by 17 other democrat AGs from states such as New York, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.
The letter proceeds to highlight seven steps they think Facebook should take to better police content to avoid
online abuse. They recommended things such as aggressive enforcement of hate speech policies, third-party enforcement and auditing of hate speech, and real-time assistance for users to report harassment.
President Donald Trump has said that he will ban the popular short-form video app TikTok from operating in the United States. Trump said he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order.
Earlier on Friday, it seemed that the President was
set to sign an order to force ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns the social media platform, to sell the US operations of TikTok to Microsoft. The move was aimed at resolving policymakers' concerns that the foreign-owned TikTok may be a national
The US government is conducting a national security review of TikTok and is preparing to make a policy recommendation to Trump.
The Department of Commerce, as directed by President Donald J. Trump's Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship, filed a petition to clarify the scope of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. The petition requests that the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) clarify that Section 230 does not permit social media companies that alter or editorialize users' speech to escape civil liability.
The petition also requests that the FCC clarify when an online
platform curates content in good faith, and requests transparency requirements on their moderation practices, similar to requirements imposed on broadband service providers under Title I of the Communications Act. President Trump will continue to fight
back against unfair, un-American, and politically biased censorship of Americans online.
The day before a committee debate and vote on the EARN IT Act, the bill's sponsors replaced their bill with an amended version . Here's their new idea: instead of giving a 19-person federal commission, dominated by law enforcement, the power to regulate
the Internet, the bill now effectively gives that power to state legislatures
And instead of requiring that Internet websites and platforms comply with the commission's best practices in order to keep their vital legal protections
under Section 230 for hosting user content, it simply blows a hole in those protections. State lawmakers will be able to create new laws allowing private lawsuits and criminal prosecutions against Internet platforms, as long as they say their purpose is
to stop crimes against children.
The whole idea behind Section 230 is to make sure that you are responsible for your own speech online--not someone else's. Currently, if a state prosecutor wants to bring a criminal case related to
something said or done online, or a private lawyer wants to sue, in nearly all cases, the prosecutor has to seek out the actual speaker. They can't just haul a website owner into court because of the user's actions. But that will change if EARN IT
passes. That's why we sent a letter [PDF] yesterday to the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing the amended EARN IT bill.
Section 230 protections enabled the Internet as we know it. Despite the politicized attacks on Section 230
from both left and right, the law actually works fine . It's not a shield for Big Tech--it's a shield for everyone who hosts online conversations. It protects small messaging and email services, and every blog's comments section.
Once websites lose Section 230 protections, they'll take drastic measures to mitigate their exposure. That will limit free speech across the Internet. They'll shut down forums and comment sections, and cave to bogus claims that particular users are violating the rules, without doing a proper investigation. We've seen false accusations succeed in silencing users time and again in the copyright space, and even used to harass innocent users. If EARN IT passes, the range of possibilities for false accusations and censorship will expand.
EARN IT Still Threatens Encryption
When we say the original EARN IT was a threat to encryption, we're not guessing. We know that a commission controlled by Attorney General William Barr will try to ban
encryption, because Barr has said many times that he thinks encrypted services should be compelled to create backdoors for police. The Manager's Amendment, approved by the Committee today, doesn't eliminate this problem. It just empowers over 50
jurisdictions to follow Barr's lead in banning encryption.
An amendment by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), also voted into the bill, purports to protect encryption from being the states' focus. It's certainly an improvement, but we're
still concerned that the amended bill could be used to attack encryption. Sen. Leahy's amendment prohibits holding companies liable because they use end-to-end encryption, device encryption, or other encryption services. But the bill still encourages
state lawmakers to look for loopholes to undermine end-to-end encryption , such as demanding that messages be scanned on a local device, before they get encrypted and sent along to their recipient. We think that would violate the spirit of Senator
Leahy's amendment, but the bill opens the door for that question to be litigated over and over, in courts across the country.
And again, this isn't a theoretical problem. The idea of using client-side scanning to allow certain
messages to be selected and sent to the government, circumventing the protections of end-to-end encryption, is one we've heard a lot of talk about in the past year. Despite the testimonials of certain experts who have sided with law enforcement, the fact
is, client-side scanning breaks the protections of encryption. The EARN IT Act doesn't stop client-side scanning, which is the most likely strategy for state lawmakers who want to use this bill to expand police powers in order to read our messages.
And it will only take one state to inspire a wave of prosecutions and lawsuits against online platforms. And just as some federal law enforcement agencies have declared they're opposed to encryption, so have some state and local
The previous version of the bill suggested that if online platforms want to keep their Section 230 immunity, they would need to earn it, by following the dictates of an unelected government commission. But the new text
doesn't even give them a chance. The bill's sponsors simply dropped the earn from EARN IT. Website owners--especially those that enable encryption--just can't earn their immunity from liability for user content under the new bill. They'll just have to
defend themselves in court, as soon as a single state prosecutor, or even just a lawyer in private practice, decides that offering end-to-end encryption was a sign of indifference towards crimes against children.
real privacy, in the form of end-to-end encrypted messaging, and robust platforms for free speech shouldn't produce lawsuits and prosecutions. The new EARN IT bill will do just that, and should be opposed.