Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have reintroduced the EARN IT Act, a bill that would undercut Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
The EARN IT Act is described as an incentive for social media services to crack down on child sexual abuse material (or CSAM) online. While the bill’s text wasn’t immediately released, a summary indicates it’s similar to a proposal that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last year. That bill limited the typically broad protections that Section 230 grants “interactive computer services” against being sued over user-generated content, adding special conditions for material that runs afoul of CSAM laws.
The original EARN IT Act’s sponsors touted endorsements from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other groups, and it took aim at a surge of online child sexual abuse content. But the bill was strongly condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union and many advocates for online civil liberties, sex workers, and LGBT rights — who argued that it would encourage companies to abandon strong encryption and privacy protections for users. Some of these groups, including Fight For the Future, have issued statements against the revived bill as well. The bill is scheduled to be discussed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
The EARN IT Act is one of several plans to add carveouts or conditions to Section 230, but so far, it’s been one of the only bills to garner significant traction, albeit not enough to earn a vote on the Senate floor. If passed, it would join the 2018 FOSTA-SESTA carveout, which stripped protections for content related to sex work — and has been widely blamed for a crackdown on sex workers online, while reports have cast doubt on its value as an anti-trafficking law.