US Anti-Encryption Legislation EARN IT Getting Closer to Being Tabled

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is raising the alarm over EARN IT since it is getting closer to being tabled.

In December of last year, US senator’s gave an ultimatum to all those who dare innovate using a computer. That ultimatum was essentially “break your encryption, or we’ll legally force your hand. You have one year to comply.” While Facebook did give a rebuke to the threat at the time, it seems that lawmakers aren’t exactly going to forget such moves of defiance.

Early last month, a Republican and a Democrat were noted for drafting a piece of legislation known as EARN IT. The draft legislation sparked fears that it could put an end to secure communication on the Internet.

As time went on, those fears gradually became more real. According to digital rights advocates, that legislation is getting closer to being tabled. From the EFF:

Members of Congress are about to introduce a bill that will undermine the law that undergirds free speech on the Internet. If passed, the bill known as the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act, will fulfill a long-standing dream of U.S. law enforcement. If passed, it could largely mark the end of private, encrypted messaging on the Internet.

Even if the bill actually did avoid encryption issues, it would be a bad idea. The Internet isn’t just a few big companies. It’s billions of people, speaking across more than a billion websites. Section 230 doesn’t give tech companies a free pass. It makes people responsible for their own speech and their own behavior online, just as we all are in the offline world. Section 230 isn’t broken, and we’ve explained elsewhere how the EARN IT bill would also undermine online speech.

You shouldn’t need to get a pass from a commission of law enforcement agencies just to set up a website. That’s the type of system we might hear about under an authoritarian regime. Yet, in the name of protecting children, U.S. lawmakers might be about to set up such a system here. That’s what the EARN IT bill comes dangerously close to prescribing.

As pointed out in the past, the bill also gives the Attorney General the power to revoke Section 230 protections afforded to websites if they fail to follow “best practices”. This also serves as the free speech killer portion of the legislation.

There is also the lingering question of whether or not the legislation will get passed this session. It’s entirely possible that we’ll make it to November and the legislation will simply not be passed in the last portion of this governmental session. Still, that doesn’t stop lawmakers from simply re-introducing the legislation as-is. With all the legwork done to getting it tabled, it probably won’t take long before it would get re-introduced in that scenario. Then there is also the possibility of this being one of those famous 11th hour passages too.

Either way, many online businesses are looking at this legislation nervously. It’s not a surprise given how much of an existential threat it is. We’ll continue to be on the look out for any developments this story might have and bring you what we can.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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