The EARN IT Act: A Violation of Our Rights

%22There+is+no+doubt+that+child+sexual+exploitation+is+a+serious+problem+in+this+country%2C+but+there+are+better+and+more+effective+ways+of+handling+it+without+violating+the+rights+of+average+Americans%2C%22+said+Oviya+Sivapalan+%2721.+%0A

Ramisa Promi

“There is no doubt that child sexual exploitation is a serious problem in this country, but there are better and more effective ways of handling it without violating the rights of average Americans,” said Oviya Sivapalan ’21.

In the last few decades, America has become an extremely digitized society, even more so due to the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has increased our dependence on technology for a multitude of reasons. One of the main reasons is that we are unable to see our friends and family in person, so communication, along with school and work, has all moved online. With more virtual interactions now than ever, substantial encryption and cybersecurity have become more imperative than ever.

In early March 2020, the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced the EARN IT Act, a bill that completely undermines online privacy and security. It was passed in an attempt to combat online child sexual exploitation, but the bill endangers online communication and encryption technology that provides cybersecurity. It gives government officials like Attorney General William Barr the power to monitor online content and compel service providers to break encryption.

The act concentrates mainly upon Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This amendment states that online service providers are not responsible for the user-generated content posted on their platforms. This essentially gives companies the liberty to expand upon their brand without being liable for how their platforms are being used. Under the EARN IT Act, online service providers are now considered liable for activity related to child sexual exploitation. Now companies have to “earn” their previous freedom by showing that they are following guidelines set by a government committee for preventing child sexual exploitation.

The act has been met with disapproval from many activist groups because it is a clear violation of the protections set in the Constitution regarding free speech and privacy. “The EARN IT Act violates the first and fourth amendments of the Constitution because it threatens our freedom of speech and allows officials to search accounts without a warrant,” said Oviya Sivapalan ’21.

Although the bill’s purpose is to prevent online exploitation of children, it does not directly attack child sexual abuse material or child trafficking ads. Instead, the bill allows the government to control how online platforms are operated and oversee user-generated content. User-generated content is the new editorial activity, in the age of the Internet, which is protected by the First Amendment. Congress does not have the right to control how online platforms post user-generated content, which the EARN IT Act is essentially seeking to do.

The EARN IT Act also seizes the power of online platform services, turning them into government puppets and allowing the government to screen user-generated content without a warrant based on probable cause. “Many of us rely on certain apps to have secure conversations, and if the government is allowed to access these conversations without a warrant, then it would add to our distrust to both the social media apps that we use and also to government officials, ultimately changing the way we communicate with one another,” said Sivapalan. It is an unstable time in the world and the EARN IT Act takes away the security we need.

“The EARN IT Act violates the first and fourth amendments of the Constitution because it threatens our freedom of speech and allows officials to search accounts without a warrant,” said Oviya Sivapalan ’21.

 

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