Kennedy backs online child sexual exploitation bill, proposes back up measure

Kennedy backs online child sexual exploitation bill, proposes back up measure
© Greg Nash

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) on Wednesday joined a bipartisan group of senators in backing legislation aimed at holding companies accountable for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online.

Kennedy's commitment, announced during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the legislation, brings the total co-sponsors on the EARN IT Act up to 11 — six Democrats and five Republicans.

The bipartisan legislation would create a government-backed commission to develop "best practices" for dealing with rampant CSAM online.

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Congress would then have final say on those recommendations around identifying and reporting on child sexual exploitation.

If tech companies do not the meet the best practices adopted by Congress, they would be stripped of their legal liability shield, which is laid out in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. 

That law, which is considered foundational to the modern internet by most tech companies, gives platforms legal immunity for content posted by third-party users while also giving them legal cover to take good-faith efforts to moderate their platforms.

During Wednesday's hearing, Kennedy laid out another way to target CSAM and the liability shield without EARN IT — carving out exemptions to Section 230 for child sexual exploitation.

"I'm willing to give the commission a shot," he said. "I bet if we say, 'Look here's the deal: either show meaningful progress, we'll define that for you, or we're going to yank your 230 immunity.'"

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US This week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE (R-S.C.), the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, told reporters that if the EARN IT Act fails, he would also fall back to a similar approach.

"The most simple solution is what Sen. Kennedy was talking about and that's probably where I'll wind up if we can't get this passed," he said. "Just carve out in Section 230 child sexual abuse ... every other business is subject to being sued if they don't childproof their products, so should these people."