Congress is reviving a bill to crack down on tech over online child sexual exploitation by taking aim at legal liability protections.
The Earn It Act removes protections afforded through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for platforms with child sexual abuse material on their sites, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and co-sponsor of the legislation.
The bill intends to encourage companies to earn the liability protections by addressing child-sex content in ways that Congress deems appropriate.
“To all the victim groups and law enforcement entities urging Congress to do something about the scourge of child sexual abuse material and the exploitation of children on the internet: we hear you,” Mr. Graham said in a statement.
“The days of children being exploited on the internet and their families being unable to do anything about it are coming to an end,” he said.
Mr. Graham and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said their bipartisan bill has 21 Senate co-sponsors and they intend to review the bill in a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Thursday.
Mr. Graham’s office said Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Texas Democrat, and Ann Wagner, Missouri Republican, will introduce a companion bill in the House.
The Earn It Act was first introduced in 2020 and sailed unanimously through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
However, the bill ran headlong into opposition from liberals and conservatives concerned about the weakening of encryption tools and the creation of digital backdoors for predators to exploit.
Conservatives at Americans for Prosperity teamed with the American Civil Liberties Union in opposition to the 2020 bill.
The tech activist group Fight for the Future is among the detractors vehemently fighting the 2022 version of the bill as well.
Fight for the Future director Evan Greer said she views the bill as “one of the most poorly conceived and dangerous pieces of internet legislation I have seen in my entire career.”
“This bill will make children less safe, not more safe,” Ms. Greer said in a statement. “In the process, it will trample human rights and online free expression, particularly for trans and queer folks. The sponsors of this bill are ignoring the LGBTQ+ community, and they’re going to get us killed.”
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation disagrees and believes the bill is the best legislation possible.
“Tech companies have no incentive to prevent or eliminate” child sex-abuse material, Dawn Hawkins, CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, said in a statement. “The EARN IT Act is the best piece of tech accountability legislation to ensure tech companies do the right thing.”
In recent years, lawmakers have proposed rewriting Section 230’s protections as a remedy for everything from curbing illicit drug sales to punishing anti-conservative bias within tech companies’ ranks.
Many of the proposals have failed to gain even as much traction as the Earn It Act, whose current Senate sponsors include 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
“Companies can’t simply ignore child exploitation on their platforms,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and a co-sponsor. “Companies that fail to take the necessary steps to prevent child exploitation shouldn’t be protected from lawsuits.”
• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at email@example.com.
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