Security

Stop The EARN IT Bill Before It Breaks Encryption

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Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are pushing forward with their so-called “EARN IT” Act, a bill that will undermine encryption and free speech online. The bill will create a new government commission, dominated by law enforcement agencies, and give it unprecedented power over websites both large and small. Attorney General Bill Barr and the DOJ have demanded for years that messaging services give the government special access to users’ private messages. If EARN IT passes, Barr will finally get his wish—law enforcement agencies will be able to scan every message sent online.

The EARN IT Act (S. 3398) is anti-speech, anti-security, and unnecessary. A key Senate committee is scheduled to debate the bill next week—we need to tell Senators to reject this dangerous proposal.

The bill uses crimes against children as an excuse to force Internet platforms to follow a set of “best practices” set out by a government commission. If owners of the platforms don’t follow the new rules, they’ll lose legal protections for free speech.

It’s easy to predict how Attorney General William Barr, who will dominate the commission, will use that power: to break encryption. He’s said over and over again that the “best practice” is to force encrypted messaging systems to give law enforcement access to our private conversations. The Graham-Blumenthal bill would finally give Barr the power to demand that tech companies obey him or face serious repercussions, including both civil and criminal liability. That will put encryption providers in an awful conundrum: either face the possibility of losing everything in a single lawsuit, or undermine their users’ security, making all of us more vulnerable to online criminals.

The EARN IT Act is also an unconstitutional constraint on free expression. The government must not be allowed to create new rules mandating how websites manage user-generated content. We wouldn’t let Congress demand that newspapers cover certain stories, or slant the news. Similarly, lawmakers shouldn’t make rules that require websites to screen and censor user speech.

The Graham-Blumenthal bill cynically uses crimes against children as an excuse to hand control of online privacy over to federal law enforcement agencies. Congress should put a stop to it.

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