There is a lot of misinformation being spread by the technology industry regarding the EARN IT Act (S. 3398 / H.R. 8454). In the face of rising levels of child sexual abuse material being distributed and consumed online, the EARN IT Act is legislation that seeks to allow U.S. citizens to hold technology companies accountable if they aid and abet the distribution and/or consumption of child sexual abuse material. The technology industry is balking at the EARN IT Act because they like the blanket legal immunity that U.S. laws currently provide them which enable them to make money with impunity.
As many in Silicon Valley attempt to protect their profit margins at the expense of the safety and well-being of children, here’s what you need to know about the EARN IT Act (S. 3398 / H.R. 8454) and the solution(s) it proposes to address the problem of online child sexual abuse.
The Scope of the Online Child Sexual Abuse Problem
In the past ten years, the circulation of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online has grown astronomically. According to a months-long New York Times investigation:
In 2008, over 600,000 images/videos of CSAM were reported to the National Center on Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), calling it an epidemic.
In 2019, 70,000,000—70 million—CSAM images were reported. NYT called it an “almost unfathomable” increase in criminal behavior.
CSAM has overwhelmed law enforcement so much that the FBI now only prioritizes material depicting infants and toddlers while all but completely ignoring the sexual abuse of “older” children.
Also, as the system operates currently, law enforcement does not have enough resources to target perpetrators suspected of sexually abusing children in REAL TIME.
Protected by CDA 230, Tech Companies Turn a Blind Eye to Child Sexual Abuse
In 2018, of the 18.4 million reports of CSAM to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), 17 million came from Facebook because it screened all images on its platforms. Other companies simply don’t screen for it at all.
The platforms on which CSAM circulates—Instagram, Twitter, and more—are not required by law to report it. Additionally, the Communications Decency Act section 230 (CDA 230) gives near-carte blanche legal immunity to technology companies by saying that they can’t be held liable for facilitating CSAM because they aren’t considered “publishers” under the law.
CDA 230 was passed in 1996. It’s time for a change.
With NO INCENTIVE to report or combat CSAM, why would technology companies ever proactively step up when not doing so rewards greater profits?
This is why the technology industry must be held accountable. This is why the EARN IT Act is important.
The EARN IT Act Brings Accountability to Bear on Criminality
The EARN IT Act empowers American citizens by revoking the immunity from liability that Big Tech currently has under CDA 230.
Under this new legislation, survivors and state attorneys general will be able to sue technology companies for facilitating CSAM using federal civil law as well as state civil and criminal law.
In addition, the EARN IT Act creates a new Online Child Exploitation Prevention Commission. The commission will establish best business practices and make recommendations to inform policy, the judiciary, and the law enforcement community about protecting children in the ever-changing digital environment.
With goals to prevent sex trafficking, grooming, and predatory behavior, the commission would explore options for protecting children online such as family-friendly filter systems and others.
The EARN IT Act is a step toward a legal ecosystem that makes more sense for our modern context and a means for holding Big Tech accountable for harms they facilitate.
That’s why groups such as the Internet Frontier Foundation and Google oppose it: the EARN IT Act has the teeth to push technology companies to proactively build/clean up their own platforms and that will cost them time and money.
Please call and write your state’s members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives using the form below. It only takes a few minutes and hearing directly from constituents makes a big difference when it comes to convincing elected officials to stand in opposition to Big Tech lobbyists in order to protect our children.