The EARN IT Act, a controversial bill that could upend Section 230, is set to be reintroduced in Congress despite twice being hit with massive public opposition, according to a spokesperson for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act, (EARN IT) Act, was originally introduced in 2020 and faced strong opposition from digital rights groups from the start. It failed to reach the President’s desk twice, but Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are determined to try again.
The bill seeks to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This much-bemoaned telecommunications rule essentially shields tech and social media companies from blame for hateful or harmful content published on their platforms. The rule has been used repeatedly by major tech companies to absolve themselves of liability in court. The Supreme Court is set to rule on a case that could change the rules of 230 as we know it this fall, but the EARN IT Act could make things much worse for internet users by stripping protections from social media companies for using to cave to government demands and increasing surveillance on citizens.
Graham’s spokesperson said they intended to introduce the bill sometime next week.
The legislation would remove Section 230 protections from platforms if they violated child sexual abuse material (CSAM) laws at the state and federal level, creating a huge problem for platforms that are hesitant to moderate or police their platforms heavily.
The bill was criticized in the past for being too broad and creating sweeping measures that could infringe on the digital privacy of Americans, and this latest attempt is likely to be more of the same.
“When the EARN IT Act was previously reintroduced in 2022, I called it ‘one of the most poorly conceived and dangerous pieces of Internet legislation I have seen in my entire career.’ Well, it’s back again, and assuming the bill text is the same, I stand by that statement,” Evan Greer, Director of internet rights group Fight for the Future said in a press release.
The bill would also attack online encryption services like WhatsApp—the world’s most used messaging service—which uses end-to-end encryption to protect users’ texts and data from third-party access. The legislation could force companies to create backdoors for law enforcement or employ client-side scanning, a method of scanning for harmful content on a user’s device , and strip 230 protections if companies do not comply.
Tech groups have already railed against the EARN IT Act and have continued to oppose it in its most recent iteration.
“If online encryption is broken, law enforcement could look through people’s chat records to charge them for seeking, providing, or assisting abortion care or gender-affirming care. Supporting EARN IT is completely unconscionable for any lawmaker concerned with human rights and healthcare access,” Fight for the Future said.
The group said the bill would “push tech companies to over-censor their platforms in order to reduce their legal liability” which could lead to the over-targeting of marginalized communities online and would be a “human rights disaster.”
The bill has not been publicly reintroduced, and text for the 2023 legislation is not yet available.