Friday, 03 July 2020 10:55

US Senate panel okays child porn bill after tech firms' concerns addressed

By
EARN IT Act sponsor Senator Lindsey Graham. EARN IT Act sponsor Senator Lindsey Graham. Courtesy YouTube

A bill aimed at ending the spread of material about child sexual abuse material online has been approved by the US Senate Judiciary Committee after it tried to allay concerns that that it went too far and would endanger the privacy of ordinary users.

The Eliminating Abuse and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2019, or EARN IT Act was objected to by technology companies like Google and Facebook because they said it was possible it could stifle their ability to offer end-to-end encryption, Reuters reported.

But on Wednesday, the Committee chairman and lead sponsor of the bill, Senator Lindsey Graham, put forward an amendment to allay the concerns of the industry, which has not dropped its opposition to the bill.

American cryptography fellow Dr Riana Pfefferkorn, who works with the Stanford Centre for Internet and Society, has described the bill as the US trying to ban encryption without actually banning it.

Currently, section 230 of the Communications Decency Act allows online platforms to escape liability for things their users say and do; for example, you can sue the person who defamed you on a platform like Twitter, but not the platform itself. An amendment to this section in 2018 has made platforms liable for publishing information “designed to facilitate sex trafficking”.

The new bill makes it necessary for platforms to earn the immunity that Section 230 has afforded so far. And one of the conditions for earning that immunity was earlier speculated to be the ditching of end-to-end encryption.

But Graham sought to mollify those who are against the bill. “I’m not trying to stop companies from encrypting their products. ... I’m trying to make them harden their products against sexual exploitation,” he told a hearing on Thursday.

Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal, the other lead sponsor, also made a similar statement. “This bill is not about encryption, and it never will be,” he said.

The bill, as amended, allows federal and state claims against internet companies if they host child sexual abuse material. It threatens to strip away tech companies’ protections under Section 230 — a federal law protecting them from liability over content posted by users — if the companies do not stop the spread of child sexual abuse material.

The bill now goes to the Republican-led Senate for a vote.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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