A Backdoor Attempt to Require Backdoors to Encryption

Ashley Johnson March 11, 2020
March 11, 2020

Law enforcement authorities complain encryption makes it impossible for them to decipher the communications of criminals and terrorists, so they argue tech companies offering encrypted products and services should provide a way for government to access encrypted information when they need it. Tech companies, backed by many in civil society, counter that encryption is a powerful tool for privacy and security, and weakening it would create far more problems than it would solve.

Against this backdrop, having been thwarted repeatedly in court, law enforcement advocates now appear to be trying to get what they want surreptitiously, though legislation introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

As Ashley Johnson explains in Morning Consult, the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act ostensibly aims to prevent child exploitation online. It does so by requiring internet companies to take “reasonable measures” to keep their platforms safe, or risk losing a longstanding legal shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that online services are not responsible for content their users post. But the EARN IT Act’s language and provisions, plus Sen. Graham’s recent remarks on encryption, signal it is more likely a furtive attempt to force tech companies to not provide end-to-end encryption to their users.