Updated: Oct 13, 2020
On March 6, 2020, the Civil Society Coalition delivered a letter denouncing the Eliminating Abuse and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT Act) to Senators Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal, along with members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. The letter, which LGBT Tech signed as part of the twenty-five member coalition, describes the coalition's opposition to the proposed legislation based on its plan to weaken encrypted networks.
Claiming to benefit victims of child exploitation, the EARN IT Act "would create incentives for companies to 'earn' liability protection for violations of laws related to online child sexual abuse material (CSAM)." In addition to establishing a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention, the EARN IT Act would require companies to undergo Congressional review to certify their compliance with Congressional standards.
Ironically, however, those standards could endanger the very children the bill claims to protect. "We fully support the goal of curbing child exploitation online," the Coalition letter makes clear. "We are concerned, however, that the bill’s language as drafted currently is seriously flawed in several important respects, and could in fact make it more difficult for law enforcement to protect children." One of the bill's biggest flaws, the letter states, is its implicit proposal for tech companies to weaken their encrypted networks.
"By setting the stage for adoption of best practices that, whether directly or indirectly, require companies to avoid offering strong device encryption or end-to-end encrypted messaging services, the bill could create encryption backdoors. Backdoors to encryption make everyone in society more vulnerable to privacy, cybersecurity, and other risks."
Opening encrypted networks - often cited by legislators and law enforcement as a possibility for authorities to curtail online elicit activity - would only weaken those networks security overall. As LGBT Tech and other groups have reiterated time and again, the network backdoors called for by legislators in recent months wouldn't be accessible exclusively to those in power.
The letter reiterates this in its assessment of the EARN IT Act: "The bill would fall far short of the goal of protecting children, while at the same time making all Americans less safe and less secure by potentially exposing everyone in society to substantially higher risk from malicious cyber actors, including hostile nation-states."
Legislation proposed with the intent to protect vulnerable groups from exploitation shouldn't take steps to contribute to those groups' vulnerability. The fact that legislators in the US continue to propose such legislation - with the stated intent of protecting society's most vulnerable population, children - certainly begs the question of what these legislators truly expect to achieve through their actions.
LGBT Tech, among multiple other expert organizations - has proven end-to-end encryption to be the securest option for protecting individual data. Breaching those networks, regardless of the intentions behind it, weakens those networks overall - thus exposing personal data to greater risk from outside parties. One would think that if US legislators truly wished to protect children from exploitation, their legislation would reflect their intent. As it stands, the EARN IT Act risks leaving children, and other vulnerable populations, at greater risk than they currently face.
Summaries of the EARN IT Act and the Civil Society Coalition's letter can be found in the Open Technology Institute's press release.
The full Coalition letter can be accessed here.
To learn more about end-to-end encryption and its importance to LGBTQ+ communities, access LGBT Tech's Encryption One Sheet.