Could the EARN IT Act Destroy Encrypted Messaging?

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On January 31, 2022, the EARN IT Act was introduced to Congress. This bill is still under review by Congress, but considering the large, bipartisan (12 Republicans, 10 Democrats) group of cosponsors, there is a good chance it will pass. What is this bill, how did they get so many politicians from opposite sides of the political aisle to agree on it, and what does it mean for us?  

EARN IT stands for Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies.

Its stated goal is “To establish a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Prevention, and for other purposes.” 

You can read the bill in its entirety here.

I can’t think of anyone who would not want to end child exploitation. 

It’s sick, evil, and the damage done to children can echo through generations. The overwhelming majority of us already agree on that. The viewing, creation, possession, and distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) have been a federal crime for a long time. 

So, what does this bill claim to do that isn’t already being done?

Like all good politicians, the sponsors of this bill want to start off by establishing another committee. 

They want this committee to develop best management practices for interactive computer service providers to use to combat CSAM. The flip side of this is that if companies feel that they are better at monitoring and reporting CSAM on their own and don’t want to follow the committee’s best management practices, they will lose Section 230 immunity.

(FYI, Section 230 immunity is what makes it impossible to sue Facebook, Twitter, or any other online platform when someone uses that platform to harass another party.)

I’ll say it again: everything related to CSAM is already illegal. Reporting is already mandatory, and tens of millions of images are reported to the Department of Justice every year. Section 230 has never provided immunity when it comes to CSAM. If someone uses Facebook messenger to send prohibited material, and someone at Facebook notices, they have to report it, and they do. It’s horrible, it’s disgusting, but it’s not a new problem, and it’s not being ignored. 

In the “Myth vs. Fact” sheet put out by the sponsors of the bill, even they admit that tech companies overwhelmingly comply with law enforcement in reporting CSAM material.

So, why reinvent the wheel? 

What does the “and for other purposes” in the bill’s stated title refer to?

Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society thinks it may be a back door into making it much harder for companies to provide end-to-end encryption.

They have written extensively and in great detail about this here and here. I will (imperfectly, I know, because I’m not a lawyer) try to summarize.

Various federal agencies have been trying to make private conversations accessible to law enforcement agencies for years. When the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) was passed in 1994, it forced telephone networks to make their lines easier for law enforcement to wiretap. Not long after, federal agencies proposed making CALEA applicable to internet conversations, but after an ensuing public uproar, the proposal went away. However, every few years, some form of legislation comes up again. The federal government really, really wants access to your private conversations.

If EARN IT passes, they will get closer to making that happen. The EARN IT Act doesn’t outright ban end-to-end encryption, but it gives the chairman of this proposed Commission sweeping powers to determine what constitutes best management practices in the name of protecting children online. If he or she decides to ban encryption in the name of “protecting the children,” any company that continues to provide encryption will be open to the lawsuits that Section 230 would normally protect them against.

The proposed Commission would largely be composed of political appointees and a few industry experts. How many political appointees do you think would be particularly enthusiastic about protecting your online privacy?

And, of course, the argument always gets made—if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear. 

But this argument only holds water when you have unbiased law enforcement agencies.  

I suppose I should add—I’m not anti-law enforcement. I think a lot of our problems regarding out-of-control crime and property destruction would go away if law enforcement were allowed to do their jobs. I know the overwhelming majority of people serving in law enforcement, both at local and federal levels, sign up out of a genuine desire to serve and protect.  

But at the end of the day, politicians hold them accountable, and our political class is greedy and power-hungry. They are not above tweaking the law to target political dissidents.  

(Want to learn how to starve the beast? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide.)

Look at the Department of Homeland Security Bulletin released last February, where DHS claimed that non-mainstream Covid narratives sow distrust in the U.S. government and are therefore responsible for a heightened terrorist threat environment. This shifts blame for any isolated acts of violence to the large numbers of Americans angry and frustrated with various Covid policies.

When the OP got downgraded a few months ago, it had to do with articles questioning the narrative surrounding mask mandates. This has had a noticeable effect on how our site pops up in search engines and makes it harder to earn money. Government actions already have a very real, tangible effect on independent journalism and public speech. Passing the EARN IT Act will make it easier for them to keep tabs on private speech, as well.

It’s not unreasonable to want to have private conversations.

We live in a country where families are scattered all over the place; most of us have to use devices to stay in touch with loved ones. We should all be able to discuss personal matters without worrying about who’s listening. That’s one of the reasons apps like Signal, a privately run company that features end-to-end encryption, are so popular. Unfortunately, if the EARN IT Act passes, companies like Signal will most likely either have to change how they do business or leave themselves open to all kinds of frivolous lawsuits.

And let’s not forget that, just last week, Biden declared about half the country a threat to the nation. Obviously, Republicans found this disturbing, but political independents were disgusted by this speech as well. I don’t trust this administration at all, and it seems like I’ve got a lot of company.  

Lest anyone thinks this is a “red vs. blue” issue, remember that the Patriot Act passed during a Republican administration. I was a young adult at the time, and it seemed totally reasonable to me that we should heighten security post-9/11. But it’s now twenty years after the fact, the 9/11 mastermind was killed quite some time ago, and none of it has been repealed. Democrats were up in arms twenty years ago about the privacy violations in the Patriot Act; now that we have a Democratic administration, it seems like warrantless wiretapping and surveillance are okay. I guess it’s “because children” these days, not “because terrorists.”

Surveillance has to stop somewhere. I’m not comfortable with federal employees from either side of the aisle having access to my private conversations. My life is not particularly spicy, and I’m not breaking any laws. But my personal life is my own personal business.

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Ultimately, the EARN IT Act is about giving the government another tool in its witch hunt for “dissidents.”

It’s another trade-off between freedom and security, though the security is pretty illusory for those of us that don’t go along with whatever the political party in power says.  

It’s worth noting once more that this bill has a large number of cosponsors from both parties. 

Of course, both parties want to look like they’re protecting the children, especially in an election year. 

But what both parties really want is to inch us closer and closer to a surveillance state, and the EARN IT act is part of that.

If you really want to take some concrete steps toward protecting your privacy online, this article has a lot of advice about becoming more self-sufficient in tech. We need to become more informed about this while we still can.

What are your thoughts on this new bill?

Do you think this is just another misleading bill name? Do you feel like it’s another way to go after free-thinking “dissidents?” What about the fact that it has bipartisan support? Let us know your opinions in the comments.

About Marie Hawthorne

A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.

Marie Hawthorne

Marie Hawthorne

A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.

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  • Our defacto Feudal Lords, the .001% Elite, want to know everything about us, our thoughts, motivations and affiliations, to control us and our production completely, and ultimately to greatly reduce our numbers. While conversely, we don’t even know who they are. The advent and expansion of digital communication makes their agenda increasingly all invasive.

  • It was bound to happen. Those of us who are ham radio operators have been banned from encrypting our transmissions for a LONG time.

  • The U.S. federal government has always wanted to spy on every American citizen.They got their wish when they passed the Patriot Act after 9/11/2001. After it came to be,companies started working on building end to end encryption sites for OUR privacy.Those in DC do not like end to end encryption, so now they want to spy on those conversations as well.Could it be they are doing this because they are very afraid of us?This is what authoritarian dictators do best.The few controlling the masses is socialism at its worst.

  • I’m all for it as long as we are able to see, scrutinize and judge Clinton’s, Obama, Bidens and every other low down politician and elites private conversations.

  • Please excuse my French, but protecting children, my aching ass! This is just MORE sweeping surveillance of Americans, is exactly what The Patriot Act was, and if you truly believe that Osama bin Laden “was the mastermind of 9-11”, then you should go back to school and study physics more.
    That televised controlled demolition was an In-Your-Face attack on the American way of life BY the criminals IN the government who are taxed with “protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (for THAT is the only reason for government to exist).
    9-11 was executed to usher in the American Police State and begin a NEVER ENDING WAR against an unnamed enemy. In other words, they used it to be ABLE to begin sweeping surveillance of the American peoples, because THEY are criminals, and THEY intend to do things TO Americans that they are afraid that Americans will want to shoot them for! That makes them even more paranoid than they usually are.
    The creation of the Department of Homeland Security is likened by me to be no different than the creation of the Gestapo by Nazi Germany.
    The United States Federal Government is the biggest terrorist threat in the world, no different than the Roman Empire, and like the Roman and other empires, it will eventually suffer the same fate.

  • It’s articles like this that make me want to saddle up under my Barney’s pack and hump over the next hill. And the one after that. And so on…

    It never ends this crap.

    • “It never ends, this crap.” Correct. This crap is a thing, a body that will remain still or in motion until acted upon by an outside force. The mandates stop when we stop complying, politics gets somewhat cleaned up when we LOOK at our local critters, when we ACT (politely) instead of expecting some “George” to do it. No, throwing a lever in some November for the right crook is never going to fix it. WE have to fix it.

  • It’s so funny to me how so many fans of this site seem to want it both ways. “Crime! Child sex trafficking! School shootings! My bodily integrity — no mask, no jab! Let the police do their jobs! F$#k your feelings, snowflakes! Ban low cost housing near me! Prayer in schools! It should be illegal to criticize our former president!”

    But then also: “Prohibit abortion! Outlaw and ban LGTBQ folks from public life, from classrooms, from equality! Only CHRISTIAN prayers in schools! Hound the Bidens, Clintons, Obamas into hiding or provoke someone into violence with vicious, vile lies! English only! Unfettered access to guns! We on the right are being cancelled and shunned and shamed!”

    Anyways… everything is a cost-benefit balancing act. We have unprecedented access to guns BUT the trade-off is the highest murder rate BY FAR of any developed country in the world. We have a strong and vigorous first amendment that allows anyone to make a hash of public figures, and allows a lot of unpleasant and jarring speech to infringe on us.

    I wonder how many people on here are also taking government money? Shouldn’t you be principled and refuse? SNAP, SSDI, Social Security, medicare, medicaid, VA benefits… “oh, but I earned those”… yes, well it’s overwhelmingly likely that the mother in line with her kids at the grocery store paying with SNAP also earned hers, despite her new phone and painted nails? (Anyways, what someone else gets or deserves is absolutely none of our business.)

    So, when you have benefits like SNAP and other things, yes, there will be some who get them who don’t qualify (an astonishingly small amount, all audits show), but that means that many children and old folks and people working hard don’t starve. I’ll take that deal.

    So… if you want unfettered free speech on electronic devices like phones and email and text, fine, great. Just understand that no system (including the Earn-It Act) is perfect, and some things always get through the net. If your conversation with your cousin, “don’t you hate Biden?” etc. gets through, some terrorist’s conversation or child rapist’s conversation will also. That’s just a fact.

    I happen to agree that our freedoms were significantly curtailed after the Patriot Act. (Isn’t it funny how well Bin Laden succeeded — even after Obama succeeded in having the balls to have him taken out — Bin Laden said he’d drain this country of blood, treasure, and kill our freedom and trust in each other to work for the common good. Thoughts?)

    As Ben Franklin once famously said, “[t]hose who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

    Everything has a cost. If we want Liberty we give up some Safety. You can’t have everything. Keep your eyes open as to what things cost and when the bill comes due, remember that was the bargain you made.

    • Took note of how your liberal affluent friends on Martha’s Vineyard sure made sure all those illegals got off their island with a declaration of emergency, called in the NG and shipped the illegals to a military base in Cape Cod. All in 48 hours.

      Actually, Bin Laden said not to touch Biden. Bin Laden saw Biden would, “. . . drain this country of blood, treasure, and kill our freedom and trust in each other to work for the common good.”
      Bin Laden was right. Biden succeeded where Bin Laden failed.

      None of us wanted that bargain. We see it for what it is. We want no part of it. Nearly all preppers already know that.
      What is interesting is the number of non-preppers who are waking up to this fact.

      • Logic and evidence, I doubt, means anything to lawyer Lorraine.

        I suspect no living human has ever successfully explained something to it.

        I was hoping everyone would treat Lorraine like an ai bot and ignore it’s panty bunched rant and it would leave this place unwanted, unwelcome, unsung. (I used nongender specific pronouns just for you, Lorraine, same as I would any other nuisance.. like a tick.)


    After becoming aware of these issues and the concerns they present for our privacy, I checked into Element/Matrix which you will catch a glimpse of in the video. I have been using it and find this decentralized Matrix based encrypted open source solution the way of the future. For those that might like to use this as a one place for all your communications there is “bridging” technologies that will permit you to communicate from Element (the user interface, there are other flavors, e.g. FluffyChat for iOS) to Microsoft Teams, Slack, Signal, Telegram or WhatsApp. This can easily become a secure communication tool for both personal and business use. There’s no phone number required but you can add one or more to aid in discovery, where others who have you in their contact list can find you on Element/Matrix, and you need at least one email address but can add others for discovery reasons as well. There are about 35 million users currently.

    There are both public and private “Spaces” and “Rooms”, you can collect “Rooms” into spaces, and you can add rooms you find of interest into “Spaces”. It will make a little more sense when you see it action.

    Unlike the centralized apps by Facebook, Signal, etc. as long as their is a functioning web you won’t suffer outages. Say for instance you use FB messenger or IG or WhatsApp to keep up with friends, Element/Matrix can be a useful way to ensure that you don’t lose contact.

    There is encrypted voice and video calling, file sharing and on the fly video and image compression for those low band width situations.

    Milton, my partner, and I have migrated totally to Element and both like it better than Signal. No one can know our business but those who we care to share our business with.

    When you send an invite to someone this is what they see:

    Hey, talk to me on Element:

    P.S. You can edit your messages after you have sent them like you can a post on FB. Heaven knows I need that.

  • Here’s a thought…parents protect their children by monitoring their activity. Parents are too free with what they allow their kids to do online. My son is in 6th grade, no phone but does have other technology for school work. I have it set up where I have to approve anything he downloads. I have time limits set. I check his messages and search history. He doesn’t have any social media accounts and neither do my husband and I. Kids his age are on FB, TikTok, instagram, etc. Way too much access for a kid his age! I know this isn’t a guarantee that something won’t happen but it’s my parental obligation to protect him as much as I can. Yes the social media apps are programmed to be addicting but many parents give free roam to their children. then they want to blame the tech companies when something bad happens. Take responsibility for your children!!!

  • You want privacy from government surveillance? You mean you don’t want your emails read or phone conversations monitored? You mean you don’t want the government or their contractors knowing about your aunt’s cancer, your uncle’s drug problems, your sister’s martial problems, your cousin’s new AR-15 and his cool gear, your intimate email or phone conversation with your significant other, that yard sale you plan to have on the weekend, the problems you’re are having with your adolescent child, the secret vegetable garden you have in your backyard because the Housing Association prohibits it, the email to your well-to-do relative asking them to help you out with your rent? Sorry, privacy is a human right. I have the right to keep my business from the prying ears of government stooges.

    • You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

      But there’s a line of jurisprudence that is precedent followed today (MOSTLY) that says we citizens have what is called a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” The problem is, over time more and more and more, technology and convenience move the goalpost as to what is “reasonable” further and further down the road. What someone could have reasonably expected would be private 10-25-50-100 years ago is very different than today. In an era where technology is all around, listening and recording, in cameras everywhere, ubiquitous social media, drones overhead, electronic surveillance, even in things we invite in our homes like Alexa and Siri, can we reasonably expect much to be private anymore? Courts seem to be saying no. Over time we can reasonably expect less and less privacy.

      And that is part of the point that I was trying (not very well) above to make. When you trade liberty for security, it’s a bad deal, because as times change, you think you’re secure but you’re not. And liberties lost, whether taken from you or freely given up, are much harder to take back.

      Gosh, I sound like some of you! Geez, how did that happen? 😉

  • As long as Tor (darkweb/onion), VPN’s, The Chan boards, and end-to-end encryption software, etc, exists, it’s all just “feel good” legislation. Plus, there’s always the old school method of simply meeting and talking in person, which–of course–is the best way to communicate. Phones and social media? Never.

  • It must be election time or sitting in their office all day and realizing they don’t have self-importance. That’s the only two things I can think of why they want to do this or either that this is a sign they are going to ask for a pay raise soon.

  • And yet another act disguising ‘to help the kids’. Ugh, I grow more disgusted each day. What will these people think of next. This ‘act’ will of course dupe many into agreeing with it & it passing. I was all for the Patriot Act (I was obviously younger & less politically adept) but now I see how everything eventually becomes so twisted & corrupt. Thank you Marie for the article, I learn so much.

  • Well, I’m already using a VPN, TOR and anti tracking software. It looks like I will have to step up my methods. Privacy is a right not a privilege.

    • Cannot agree more.
      But one party seems to have lost it’s ever living mind as of the past few years.
      You know it is bad when even long time Democrat Bill Maher says,
      “I keep saying to the liberals: you know what, if what you’re doing sounds like an ‘Onion’ headline…stop,”

  • With Less Government Comes Prosperity. Governments have NEVER made anything, but bad decisions, and wasted “Stole” trillions. Become Ungovernable.

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