The continued onslaught of Trump era legal attacks can quickly and easily lead to exhaustion, which—unfortunately—can also inspire people to just block out news of the sadistic shenanigans altogether. And with the looming Earn It Act, which makes good on its ominous name by being stacked with manipulative faux security tactics, blocking out such news could only serve the enemy.
While senators including Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) have hinged that the legislation on the narrative of it being merely an encouragement to the tech industry to "take child sexual exploitation seriously," the Earn It Act actually poses a serious threat to citizens' privacy and rights to free expression. Furthermore, as critics have outlined in great detail, the proposed legislation would do little in terms of protecting children.
Below, we've put together a mini-guide on the Earn It Act, including how to encourage Congress to trash it.
The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (Earn It Act) is described by senators as a piece of legislation that would "create incentives" for companies to "earn liability protection for violations of laws related to online child sexual abuse material" or CSAM. However, as mentioned above, that's far from a fair characterization.
The measure could ultimately produce a "backdoor" to encrypted services that, in the words of both the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans for Prosperity, would most certainly jeopardize the security and privacy of "every individual." The method of using such backdoors has long been the source of criticism from privacy advocates, who accurately argue that they can provide access to law enforcement and others who may not always have the public’s best interest at the center of their actions.
"The Earn It Act threatens the safety of activists, domestic violence victims, and millions of others who rely on strong encryption every day," Kate Ruane, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel, warned back in May.
How does this affect me?
Presumably, you care about privacy. The Earn It Act—as made clear in this detailed breakdown from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit focused on defending civil liberties in a digital world—is another example of an attempt at blatant constitutional violations being masked as helpful legislation.
Despite its self-publicized purported intentions, the Earn It Act eschews actually targeting CSAM and instead aims to enable the government (and potentially others) to meddle with the internet in detrimental ways. Chief among the problems with Earn It is the use of so-called "best practices" requirements that would be decided upon by a commission under the guidance of known encryption-hater William Barr, the current U.S. Attorney General.
Conveniently, the the Act's authors were careful with regards to language by avoiding outright stating "encryption" as a target in the legislation.
But encryption isn't even mentioned. Right?
That doesn't matter, despite comments from Blumenthal and others who are using the Act's written language as part of an attempt to prove that encryption is safe from attack. In fact, encryption is arguably a main target of the Act, which—per EFF—might be better described as a governmental effort aimed at bagging the ability to "scan every message online."
According to policy analyst Joe Mullin, any commission created as a result of the Earn It Act would have far more nefarious intentions than the PR campaign surrounding it might suggest.
"It will be a vehicle for creating a law enforcement wish list," Mullin said in March. "Barr has made clear, over and over again, that breaking encryption is at the top of that wish list."
What can I do?
Be loud as hell about your disapproval of this nonsense. And with this handy EFF tool, you can also look up your representatives using your address and zip code, then be provided the option to send a pre-made letter urging them to reject the Earn It Act for giving the Attorney General "far too much power." Furthermore, don't let the exhaustion of the 2020 news cycle push you into a habit of ignoring developments of this nature.