The EARN IT Act of 2020: Under the cover of Pandemic

It’s Thursday March 5th, the Department of Homeland Security denied 241 people at a U.S. port due to COVID-19 infections. The DOW has dropped 1,000 points as investors begin to panic at the idea of a crippled market. On the west coast the 11th person has died in Washington state due to the Coronavirus. And Vice President Pence announced that there will not be enough Coronavirus test kits available to meet anticipated demand, while the Senate passes an $8.3 billion response package. Americans are in a panic and the health system is reeling due to overpopulation. Yet among the ensuing chaos, four U.S. senators miraculously found strange importance in a new bill. 

Senators Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Josh Hawley (Missouri), and Dianne Feinstein (California) introduced the EARN IT Act of 2020 on March 5th. The acronym stands for “Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies”. It is sold under the guise that it will be used specifically to combat online child sexual abuse. The cause is noble but the specifics of the bill are questionable. 

EARN IT will establish the National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention and will incorporate nineteen members. The Commission will then create a set of best practices that online companies must abide by to fight child sexual abuse online. These best practices must then be approved by fourteen members of the board then submitted to the attorney general, secretary of homeland security, and the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Finally the list is enacted by congress and enforced. 

The bill states that tech companies have to earn Section 230 protections as opposed to it being granted upon inception. For those unaware, Section 230 is a set of protections afforded to interactive computer services. It was passed in 1996 and allows tech companies to skate liability if their users post illegal content. With the exception of copyright laws, sex trafficking, and breaches of federal law. It gives online business a lazed sense of a liability and also lets users exercise their freedom of speech on the internet. 

If the EARN IT Act is passed then tech companies will have to comply with the best practices enacted by Congress in order for them to grant users with free speech capabilities. When online corporations fail to meet the standards set forth then they will aggressively curb speech on their platforms. Even more concerning is the fact that the Act could take away the ability for companies to provide encrypted messaging. This could be a serious blow to online freedoms, the same freedoms that individuals like Edward Snowden fought for. Similar to the Patriot Act, which was passed under the guise of “anti-terrorism” then used as a mass information collection tool for the surveillance community, the same will be done here. 

Their cause is meant to instill empathy in Americans so their agenda can be forwarded. The bill could be avoided if tech giants assumed responsibility for the illegal activities propagated through their platforms. Their power comes from their users, so rather than let their lobbyists muddy politics it’s time for the consumer to lobby against the corporation. It has come to a point where legislators are willing to guillotine our liberties during a global pandemic in lieu of enforcing tech giants with a higher level of realistic responsibility. If consumers come together and boycott these tech groups until they appropriately deal with the sex trafficking on their sites then we can avoid lucid acts like EARN IT. 

Far above our role as consumers comes our role as citizens. Our fight does not stop with the tech giants. I urge you to write to all four legislators mentioned above (their contact information can be found through the resources section on our site) While Americans stress hourly about the unprecedented health crisis our representatives quarrel over taking away online freedoms. The threat of an all knowing, all collecting, and authoritative government is very real. The actions of our representatives make that very clear. Our Republic is changing, and it’s done behind the twenty-four hour news cycle and at night while we sleep. The establishment underestimates the power of an enlightened collective and united we can create political as well as social change. 



Patrick O’Connor

current events

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