By Joe Mullin
This month, Americans are out in the streets, demanding police accountability. But rather than consider reform proposals, a key Senate committee is focused on giving unprecedented powers to law enforcement—including the ability to break into our private messages by creating encryption backdoors.
This Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to debate and vote on the so-called EARN IT Act, S. 3398. It’s a law that would allow the government to scan every message sent online. The EARN IT Act creates a 19-person commission that would be dominated by law enforcement agencies, with Attorney General William Barr at the top. This unelected commission will be authorized to make new rules on “best practices” that Internet websites will have to follow. Any Internet platform that doesn’t comply with this law enforcement wish list will lose the legal protections of Section 230.
The new rules that Attorney General Barr creates won’t just apply to social media or giant Internet companies. Section 230 is what protects owners of small online forums, websites, and blogs with comment sections, from being punished for the speech of others. Without Section 230 protections, platform owners and online moderators will have every incentive to over-censor speech, since they could potentially be sued out of existence based on someone else’s statements.
Proponents of EARN IT say that the bill isn’t about encryption or privacy. They’re cynically using crimes against children as an excuse to change online privacy standards. But it’s perfectly clear what the sponsors’ priorities are. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), one of EARN IT’s cosponsors, has introduced another bill that’s a direct attack on encrypted messaging. And Barr has said over and over again that encrypted services should be forced to offer police special access.
The EARN IT Act could end user privacy as we know it. Tech companies that provide private, encrypted messaging could have to re-write their software to allow police special access to their users’ messages.
This bill is a power grab by police. We need your help to stop it today. Contact your Senator and tell them to oppose the EARN IT Act.
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