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EARN IT Act Threatens Privacy Protections & Free Expression

Reintroduction of the dangerous bill hasn’t solved major flaws

(WASHINGTON)–The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) is warning that the reintroduction of the EARN IT Act in the Senate threatens free expression and internet users’ ability to take advantage of the crucial protections of strong encryption. Addressing online child exploitation is essential, but this bill increases risks to the online safety of both children and adults. As CDT and numerous other civil society organizations have explained in the past, the EARN IT Act will result in online censorship disproportionately impacting marginalized communities and it will jeopardize access to encrypted services

The newest version of the bill not only retains these core problems, but, in some cases, makes things worse. In particular, the bill would threaten encryption and the role it plays in protecting cybersecurity for everyone, and especially at-risk users. Given its significant problems and potential vast impact on internet users, CDT is especially concerned to see the EARN IT Act being rushed through the legislative process. We urge Senators to oppose the new bill.

As before, the EARN IT Act would revoke Section 230 protection for internet intermediaries for a broadly defined set of state criminal and civil claims and certain federal civil claims around child sexual abuse material. Under the new version of the bill, offering users encrypted services can be considered evidence of an intermediary’s liability for these claims, even if it cannot be considered an “independent basis” for that liability. By dramatically expanding the risk of lawsuits intermediaries will face over user-generated content and their use of end-to-end encryption, the bill will cause intermediaries to over-remove even lawful content and disincentivize them from offering encrypted services, to the detriment of all internet users.

CDT President and CEO Alexandra Reeve Givens says:

“We cannot successfully combat the spread of child sexual abuse material on the internet by making it harder for children and adults to access information and more dangerous for everyone to communicate online. 

The EARN IT Act paints a target on the backs of providers who offer end-to-end encrypted services. Internet users rely on encrypted services to communicate safely online. Without encryption, activists planning a march, journalists communicating with sources, patients sending messages to health professionals, and even children talking with their parents would face increased risk that their private and sensitive communications will be exposed. By creating a massive disincentive for providers to offer encrypted services, the EARN IT Act will make us all less safe.”   


The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) is a 25-year-old 501(c)(3) working to promote civil rights and civil liberties in the digital age. Based in Washington, D.C. and Brussels, Belgium, CDT works inclusively across sectors to find tangible solutions to today’s most pressing technology policy challenges. Our team of experts includes lawyers, technologists, academics, and analysts, bringing diverse perspectives to all of our efforts.