The U.S. might permanently ban end-to-end encryption
US Senators – Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal have introduced a new law that would make social networks’ legal protections depend on their adoption of privacy measures and prevention of the sexual exploitation of children. The act – popularly known as the Earn It Act – an acronym for “Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies” has widely renewed fears of a new wave of Internet Censorship.
Dissecting the Act: What does it mean?
The bill is proposing an amendment to section 230 of the Communication Decency Act. If the proposal goes through, major social networks will need to assume full responsibility or liability for the content being posted on their platforms, unless they follow a particular set of “Best practices” set forth by the government.
“Social media giants will need to earn the protections granted by Section 230 instead of being immune by default – the way it has been for the last two decades.”
Core Motives behind the bill
The bill is intended to protect children online since tech companies aren’t already doing enough in that regard. It has been a long-standing narrative peddled by the Justice department that end-to-end encryption bars the law enforcement agencies from gathering evidence that is sufficient enough to put criminals behind bars.
Even though negotiations in this regard are still underway, the senators behind the act have warned to restrict encryption through the bill if the talks don’t prove to be fruitful. To remain legally protected, tech companies will need to meet the standards set by a new 19- person commission comprising of the representatives of the Justice Department, homeland security, federal trade commission, and members appointed by congress.
“Tech companies such as Twitter and Facebook must follow the laid down best practices or be ready to be held liable for the content that their user base generates daily.”
Is the government trying to curb your internet freedom under the garb of child protection?
The act is being seen as the latest strike by the government in the ongoing war on the end-to-end encryption, whereby the government institutions have continually criticized apps such as WhatsApp and iMessage because they can’t be intercepted.
However, the true nature of these so-called “best practices” is still unclear and is yet to be decided by a national commission. What we do know is that the EARN IT bill gives massive powers to the government to dictate what needs to be done to protect children online, even if it involves taking away the privacy of millions of users. A failure to do so or lack of cooperation in that regard, on the part of big-tech companies, will have far-reaching legal consequences.
Say Goodbye to End-To-End Encryption
The government will penalize companies for any objectionable content by their users unless they agree to measures that might potentially eliminate end-to-end encryption.
The senators behind the bill have explicitly denied that they don’t want to ban end-to-end encryption. However, as per experts, the only way to effectively monitor these platforms and flag inappropriate content is to obliterate end-to-end encryption. Therefore, the bill can only be seen as a stealth attack on end-to-end encryption by taking away the indemnity granted to the tech sector through amendments in the Section 230.
Criticism on the EARN IT act
Everyone is on board with the initiative to ensure child safety in the cyberspace, but cybersecurity experts have warned that the bill is only the latest attempt by the government to curb free speech and infringe on citizen’s privacy. The proposed legislation has received widespread criticism from a majority of security experts, internet freedom activists and internet users, who are unanimously opposing it.
Future of the Bill
So far, no voting has been done on EARN IT. However, it is expected that the bill will find strong support and that it will be passed without adequate public discourse and debate due to the ongoing COVID 19 crises.
It goes without saying, the internet will no longer be what it is. If the Senate succeeds, the Internet will become way less secure than ever before in history, with the most crucial tool gone away.