Sex Workers Organizations Continue to Raise Awareness of EARN IT

An American sex workers advocacy group is raising awareness of EARN IT. This legislation is sometimes referred to as the encryption ban legislation.

In the US, there is a lot that is going on – and a lot of what is happening does have their own respective gravity behind it. Because of so much activity, it can be difficult to really grasp just how much technology has been under threat in these last three and a half years. Among the issues we’ve seen is the beginning of the full structural collapse of the open Internet as ISPs begin eliminating network neutrality now the the legal hurdles were wiped out by the Trump Administration. Another major issue is the Trump Administration attempting to kill Section 230 which, contrary to Trump, would actually drastically increase censorship online.

So, it really isn’t a surprise that another threat to free speech and innovation has fallen out of the public conscious to some degree. That threat, also brought in by lawmakers in this presidential term, is known as EARN IT. The legislation was being drafted earlier this year under the guise of fighting child exploitation online. Of course, that is merely a political move to get people on side with the legislation.

Really, the legislation came about in the backdrop between the government and technology companies. Companies like Apple and Telegram offer services that feature encryption. The idea is that encryption better increases security and privacy of ordinary people. The government, meanwhile, decided that it was going to put a stop to effective encryption and try and control speech online. So, they decided to launch an all out assault on companies that employ security that the government doesn’t have backdoor access to.

They tried to sell this possible legislation by saying that terrorists could use an iPhone that is encrypted and that law enforcement would never get access. The talking point was, ultimately, not all that accurate. Generally speaking, when the government contacts companies under circumstances like that, companies like Apple actually do hand over the encryption keys to allow law enforcement to decrypt their products and obtain evidence. Additionally, law enforcement also have access to tools that crack encryption in the first place.

While that talking point was ultimately shot down when drawn out into the light and examined against reality, people like William Barr simply insisted that so-called “warrant-proof encryption” should not be allowed to exist in the first place. That compelled the Republican parties to begin drafting anti-encryption laws. Many in the security community who have been around longer than me have pointed to past battles over encryption and said that this is yet another ill-advised repeat of those battles. One battle often brought up is the battle over the clipper chip.

Fast forward to this year and we caught wind of the drafting of America’s anti-encryption laws. Back in February, we reported on draft legislation known as EARN IT. When news initially broke, we learned that it has the potential to regulate online free speech. As more details emerged, we also learned that it could also ban effective encryption in the US. Laws and stipulations over encryption would be controlled by the US attorney general who would be tasked with determining “best practices” for technology. The legislation itself was being drafted by Republican senator Lindsey Graham.

Digital rights advocates and organizations were horrified that this could become actual tabled legislation and raise awareness about it. Despite efforts to raise awareness, the legislation seemed to continue to be developed behind the scenes as recently as March.

Now, with so many other controversies going around, an effort to bring EARN IT back into the public conscious is under way. Sex worker advocacy groups are trying to raise awareness of the legislation. From the EFF:

In 2018, the backdrop for many International Whores Day actions were to raise awareness around SESTA/FOSTA, a bad bill that turned into a worse bill and then was rushed through votes in both houses of Congress. Sex work advocacy organizations warned how dangerous that bill would be in undermining 47 U.S.C. § 230, originally enacted as part of the Communications Decency Act, and thus silencing online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users. It ultimately passed, and unfortunately the grim predictions those advocacy organizations laid out were proven right.

This year, many of the same communities are striking a similar pitch with raising awareness around another proposed bill that’s aimed to weaken Section 230: EARN IT, which we’ve previously written about.

The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) is a national network of social justice organizations that dedicate their efforts to advocating for the human rights of sex workers. The LA chapter has been raising awareness in their community to how EARN IT could threaten access to encrypted communications, a tool that many in the sex industry rely on for harm reduction. This warning was also taken up by popular secure messaging app Signal, which raised concern that if EARN IT were to pass, it could bring the end of their software in American markets.

Hacking//Hustling is a collective of sex work activists and data analysts that originally formed in response to SESTA/FOSTA. They’ve hosted community teach-ins, digital harm reduction workshops, and direct action protests to raise awareness about this threatening legislation. Founder of Hacking//Hustling, Danielle Blunt says “Denying access to these technologies should be understood as a form of structural violence.”

Decriminalize Sex Work, an organization whose tag line is “End Human Trafficking, Promote Health and Safety”, warns that this bill would once again be a means to more easily facilitate the arrest of sex workers. They describe that if it passed, it would further endanger already marginalized communities without any meaningful effect toward ending human trafficking.

One thing is for certain, this legislation really does represent a threat for American’s all over. Some people might argue that, “well, I have nothing to hide, so I’m not really all that worried”. For those who seem to believe that, the question is, do you do anything at all online that could involve any form of personal information? Have you applied for work? Ordered something online? Do any online banking? Communicate with friends online? Saying yes to any of these questions automatically puts you in the list of people who would actually be threatened by this legislation.

Another way some people might view this is that it’s only the law enforcement that would actually get those back doors. Ask anyone who has a solid understanding of security about this. They will be quick to tell you that any security hole in any kind of encryption means that it’s possible that bad actors can also have access to that same security hole. There is no such thing as a security hole that is clever enough to keep bad actors out. There are hackers all over the world who are very smart and know their stuff. Just look for Defcon footage of hackers demonstrating their capabilities and it will make you want to live under a rock for the rest of your life. That’s how good some of them are. Some use their knowledge and skill for good, others? Not so much. You know an intentional security hole will be found by a third party.

Furthermore, this isn’t just a threat to American’s. This also represents a threat to people all over the world. Anyone who uses a US based service will be affected by it. Additionally, there is the possibility that other countries will face even more pressure to pressure their own anti-encryption laws as well because of the US passing it. In fact, we’ve seen this already happening in Australia with dire results on so many levels.

If anything, this is a great reminder that this is still a threat. Just because it has slipped out of the headlines for a while doesn’t mean the threat has gone away too. In fact, legislation that represents a threat to technology and you rights actually becomes more dangerous when it is out of the public eye. This is because it can move through the process without the oversight of concerned citizens who can (and should) raise an alarm over it. This latest effort is a great reminder of this particular threat and should be applauded by security and free speech minded people all over.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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