US Federal EARN IT Act referred to Senate for a vote

Senators Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) and Richard Blumenthal (Democrat-Connecticut) have scored a major victory for their proposed legislation that will impact online sex workers. The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT Act) is another piece of legislation in the mold of FOSTA/SESTA: claiming to “protect victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation”, the bill’s actual language takes aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, sometimes referred to as the “First Amendment for the internet”.

It is already a federal crime to produce, distribute, import, receive, or possess child pornography, and these laws are regularly enforced, with an entire division of the US Department of Justice (the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section) devoted to investigating and prosecuting these crimes. It is also a federal crime for tech companies who discover such content on their servers to fail to report it to law enforcement.

What is the EARN IT Act?

Like FOSTA (the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) created a “carve out” from Section 230 that would hold internet companies liable for user-posted content that ““promotes or facilitates prostitution”, the EARN IT Act creates a similar “carve out” for “child sex abuse material”. By positioning the EARN IT Act as being about protecting children from sexual exploitation (as FOSTA claimed to be about sex trafficking), politicians have made it very difficult to argue against the proposed legislation.

Under the EARN IT Act, a commission headed by the Attorney General (currently Trump appointee William Barr) would create a set of “best practices” that must be followed by internet companies in order for their platforms to continue to benefit from the existing protections of Section 230. The commission’s best practices would be a set of voluntary guidelines, but failure to follow them would open companies to both civil and criminal charges related to underage sexual content posted by users to their platform. This is why the acronym “EARN IT” was chosen: companies must earn their Section 230 protections by complying with rules set out by a hand-picked commission.

What happens to the EARN IT Act now?

The EARN IT Act is not yet law. The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a final version of the bill, and has sent it to the Senate floor for a vote. The Senate was supposed to be in recess from July 3-17, 2020, but their calendar indicates that they will be meeting on July 6, 2020. The EARN IT Act is not on the calendar for July 6. Although the committee has referred it to the Senate, it will likely be a while before it comes up on the schedule. Once it has been debated, a simple majority (51 of 100) will pass or defeat it. Until Senators vote on it, they can still be influenced for or against the act.

What can I do to help?

Learn more:

Contact your Senator:

  • Find your Senator’s phone number or email address here, searchable by last name and state.
  • Find your Senator’s mailing address here.

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