Stop the EARN IT Bill Before It Breaks Encryption

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The House and Senate are both pushing forward with the so-called “EARN IT” Act, a bill that will undermine encryption and free speech online. Attorney General William 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 likely 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. It could come to the Senate floor this month—we need to tell Congress to reject this dangerous proposal.

The bill uses crimes against children as an excuse to subject Internet platforms to new laws that can be created by all 50 states. Those state laws may well follow the set of "best practices" that will be drafted by a federal commission dominated by Attorney General Barr and law enforcement agencies. That means state legislatures will have unprecedented power over websites, both large and small.

It’s easy to predict what kind of recommendations Attorney General Barr, who will dominate the commission, will push for—he'll seek to break encryption. He’s said over and over again that the "best practice" is to force encrypted messaging services to give law enforcement access to our private conversations. Under the Graham-Blumenthal bill, new and existing state laws could make these "best practices" into law.

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 bill is also a constraint on free expression. Internet platforms would have to follow a confusing array of state laws about how to manage user-generated content. We wouldn't let Congress demand that newspapers cover certain stories, or slant the news. Similarly, state lawmakers shouldn’t be allowed to make rules that require websites to screen and censor user speech.

The EARN IT Act cynically uses crimes against children as an excuse to hand control of online privacy and speech over to state legislatures. Congress should put a stop to it.


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