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Civil Society Coalition Condemns EARN IT Act for Threatening Free Expression, Encryption, and Child Abuse Prosecutions

Today, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) led a coalition of 26 civil society organizations in urging the United States Senate to reject the fundamentally flawed EARN IT Act (S. 3398). The bill will result in online censorship disproportionately impacting marginalized communities, jeopardize access to encrypted services, and risk undermining child abuse prosecutions. CDT has warned of the threats the bill poses since it was introduced.

“Dozens of organizations are coming together to warn the Senate that it risks repeating the same mistake Congress made in passing SESTA/FOSTA,” said Emma Llansó, Director of CDT’s Free Expression Project. “The EARN IT Act is a blunt tool that will result in platforms taking down a lot of First Amendment-protected content, particularly content created by people whose voices are already marginalized in society.”

The EARN IT Act revokes Section 230 protection for internet intermediaries for a broadly defined set of state criminal and civil claims around child sexual abuse material, opening providers up to criminal and civil sanction for transmitting content they did not create themselves. This revocation dramatically expands the risk of lawsuits that online intermediaries will face over user-generated content that is encrypted end-to-end on their services.

“The online services that shape Americans’ daily lives should be lauded for providing better privacy and security to their users, but the EARN IT Act exposes them to lawsuits for making that choice. What’s more, as we indicate in the sign-on letter, the bill aims to fight the spread of child sexual abuse material online, but undermines that goal by making it more difficult to prosecute these crimes,” said Greg Nojeim, Director of CDT’s Freedom, Security and Technology Project.

As CDT has maintained since the bill was introduced, the Senate must reject the EARN IT Act and instead pursue more tailored approaches to tackling the problem of child abuse material online. Read the full text of the letter here.