Technology

Graham, Blumenthal reintroduce controversial Section 230 bill

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reintroduced legislation Tuesday that would carve out liability protections for online platforms that have child sexual abuse content.

The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act was advanced unanimously through the Senate Judiciary Committee in the summer of 2020, but was not given a floor vote before the end of the legislative calendar.

“We have been planning for a long time [to reintroduce it],” Blumenthal told The Hill Tuesday. “We now have an overwhelming number of co-sponsors.”

The bill is set to be marked up in the Senate Judiciary Committee as early as this Thursday, the Connecticut lawmaker added.

The EARN IT Act would amend Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, opening the door for federal and state lawsuits against online companies that host child sexual exploitation content. 

Section 230 gives online companies liability protection for content posted by third parties on their platforms and allows for good faith content moderation. 

Despite receiving bipartisan support in Congress, the EARN IT Act has been roundly criticized by industry groups and a broad coalition of civil rights groups.

The tech industry has remained almost unanimous in its support of Section 230 — with the notable expectation of Facebook recently — arguing that weakening it would drive online platforms out of business with legal fees.

The EARN IT Act in particular been been criticized for potentially disincentivizing the adoption of encryption and complicating straightforward prosecution of child sex offenders.

“We’re seeing a renewed effort to push the EARN IT Act without addressing the bill’s central problems,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of the industry-funded group Net Choice. “The EARN IT Act continues to threaten encryption and privacy features and would make the internet less safe for us all, including our kids.”

Progressive and civil rights groups also oppose the bill, pointing to the failures of the last attempt to amend Section 230 — the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), also referred to as SESTA, the Senate’s original bill.

FOSTA-SESTA was designed to punish platforms facilitating sex trafficking, but has only resulted in one federal prosecution since it was signed into law in 2018. 

Instead, according to sex workers, it has made the industry more dangerous and destabilized the income sources for thousands of individuals that relied on online platforms to find safe clients.

“[EARN IT] will make children less safe, not more safe,” said Evan Greer, director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future. “And in the process, it will trample human rights and online free expression, particularly for trans and queer folks.” 

EARN IT has also draw opposition from a handful of members, most notably Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the original authors of Section 230. 

“SESTA-FOSTA was supposed to take care of things but made them worse,” he told The Hill Tuesday.

Tags Child exploitation FOSTA-SESTA Lindsey Graham Richard Blumenthal Ron Wyden Section 230 sex workers
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