Report: EARN IT: America’s Anti-Encryption Bill Dies As Session Ends

A report notes that bills not passed by January 1st will die. As it turns out, this means EARN IT is dead for now.

EARN IT was one of the more hugely controversial bills in the US. In a nutshell, it stood to ban all effective encryption in the US. It did so by demanding that all encrypted communication contain a backdoor. As anyone with a basic understanding of encryptiony, this inherently weakens the encryption in question. Of course, lawmakers wound up using the excuse of fighting crime (among others) as the reason this was so badly needed.

Lawmakers supporting the bill tried insisting that encrypted phones of known criminals are basically impossible to crack. As a result, this encryption impedes investigation. However, reports later surfaced that organizations like the FBI can already crack these phones. Additionally, companies like Apple say that if law enforcement requests it, they will be willing to decrypt the data for law enforcement purposes. When that came to light, the argument for demanding back door access to everything kept getting weaker and weaker. Still, lawmakers kept pushing for this unprecedented access at the expense of people’s personal security.

Those who support personal privacy point out that weakening encryption in one way means everyone becomes more vulnerable. One commentator we’ve observed noted that the last thing you’d want are terrorists, predators, and foreign governments finding and abusing the backdoor to access data on a minor’s cell phone. Therefore, mandating such back doors puts everyone one step closer to the scenario.

In February of last year, fears of governments push to ban effective encryption became more real when word came out that draft legislation was circulating. At the time, many worried that EARN IT would also allow government to regulate speech online.

Many people in different circles raised the alarms over the legislation. From the encryption and security communities to digital rights circles to even the sex worker community were all raising the alarm over the legislation.

After widespread outcry, the legislation was watered down at the very last minute before it was voted on. Several controversial elements were removed from the law. After re-analysis of the new version of the bill, the conclusion for many is that the bill still was a threat to encryption – albeit in a slightly more roundabout way.

Now, a report says that EARN IT has effectively died in its current incarnation. From BroadbandBreakfast:

When the Senate reconvenes on Sunday at 11:45 a.m., the body will gavel in for the first session of the 117th Congress. All bills not passed as of Friday, January 1, 2021 – the last day Congress was in session – will die.

One of those bills is the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2020, or EARN IT Act, S. 3368, introduced in March by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina. Among other provisions, the measure would have restricted the liability protection of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

For now, people in many communities can breath a sigh of relief that this bill is now dead. Though, it should be pointed out that the relief will likely only be temporary. After all, spy organizations from around the world have been pushing for back door access for years. We noted this happening in 2018 and 2019 to name two examples. Really, you can almost bank on this debate returning. No doubt bills will get re-introduced in the next session in another attempt to break the worlds encryption. Proponents are very adept at hijacking the tech news of the day to try and tie it into demanding back door access. It’s very likely some story will get shoehorned into the debate and this issue will get pushed again in the future.

Still, the silver lining here is a temporary reprieve. A reprieve is a reprieve – and after a year like this, that is more likely to be welcome news even if it’s only for a short period of time.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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