October 8, 2020
The EARN IT Act, or specifically the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act, is a proposed American bill which has made headlines over the last couple of months. The bill is aimed at targeting sexual exploitation of children on the internet, with its purpose being to ‘prevent, reduce and respond to’ cases of misconduct.
EARN IT is a security act which essentially will work to redesign the surveillance and monitoring of material posted by users on social media platforms. It has been met with a lot of criticism, many arguing that it will have detrimental effects on the privacy and security of American citizens. Through increased surveillance and monitoring of personal information, some even argue that the act presents significant problems in regards to censorship and the constitutional right of privacy.
One aspect of the bill which has sparked significant uproar and critique is the eradication of Section 230 in regards to abusive material. Section 230 is a law which shields internet companies from being held liable for the content posted by their users. For example, if an individual user posts illegal content on Facebook, the owners of Facebook will not be held liable for this illegal act. Under the EARN IT Act, however, companies will no longer be subject to this protection.
As explained by the American Civil Liberties Union, companies will respond to the subsequent increase in the liability cost of providing an online service by passing this cost on to consumers. This will be materialised through increased surveillance and screening of private messages, in an attempt for companies to avoid expensive lawsuits. As a result, censorship is promoted and freedom of speech on the internet becomes limited.
Another significant caveat to this bill is the necessary creation of backdoors. A backdoor when speaking about encryption is essentially a built-in feature which allows an agent to bypass the encryption. In this case, the backdoor feature will provide the government the ability to evade all security that an individual has placed on their device, enabling easy access to personal data.
This act will impact all users of the internet within United States borders, irrespective of whether the government is interested in your data or not. When backdoors are introduced, ill-intentioned agents are also provided an opportunity to retrieve your data. As stated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “either the message remains private to everyone but its recipients, or it is available to others”. On the other side of the argument, many feel that this is a necessary condition for ensuring national security and ease of federal investigations.
Government vs. Tech companies
The United States government and larger tech companies have long been in a standoff in regards to data privacy and the government’s right to access encrypted information. You may remember the dispute between Apple and the FBI in the San Bernardino case. Apple refused to create a backdoor for the federal agency, rendering it incredibly challenging for the FBI to access the shooter’s phone. Apple came to this conclusion as they felt creating a backdoor “would set a dangerous precedent” for the encrypted material of all iPhone users.
A similar conclusion has been drawn by the public in the wake of this bill. Many worry that the EARN IT Act will create a dangerous landscape for all individuals, not just criminals being chased by the FBI.
Encryption during a Pandemic
The current worldwide pandemic has made encryption more paramount than ever before. Individuals and companies alike have increased their reliance on digital platforms to conduct their day-to-day operations. This has meant that there is a greater risk as the threat landscape becomes wider. Encryption is now increasingly necessary in preventing criminals from using the pandemic for commercial gain and accessing personal data. Therefore, if there was ever a time to invest in encryption and ensure the security of your data, it is now.
Here at AxCrypt we are very happy to have our servers based in Sweden, where the government has absolutely no authority to require or request any encrypted data. Therefore, if you have invested in our software, you can rest easy knowing that your data will be kept private and secured. If you haven’t checked out our software yet, click here to read more about our Premium and Business subscription plans.