EARN IT Act and the Online Safety Bills It Inspired Fail to Balance Free Expression and Safety, Says ITIF
WASHINGTON—In response to the reintroduction of the EARN IT Act last week and a slew of online safety bills that have been or will soon be introduced, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy, issued the following statement from Senior Policy Analyst Ashley Johnson:
There are disappointingly few changes in the text of the EARN IT Act of 2023 compared to last year’s version. The lack of changes demonstrates that its Congressional sponsors have still not learned from their mistakes in attempting to restrict Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The bill’s previous iterations failed, but it has inspired similar legislation targeting online child exploitation, including the Kids Online Safety Act and STOP CSAM Act.
These bills fail to strike the right balance required to curtail online harms without restricting free speech or undermining privacy and security. The EARN IT Act, in particular, would incentivize online services to scan their users’ posts, messages, and other interactions for potentially criminal content, specifically child sexual abuse material, which would hurt user privacy and security. Moreover, online services would likely aggressively remove potentially illegal content to avoid liability, significantly limiting free speech online.
Online child sexual abuse is a serious problem, as reflected by the bipartisan consensus that lawmakers and law enforcement should do more to combat these crimes. Limiting Section 230 will not solve this problem, but it would undermine privacy, security, and free speech.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy. Recognized by its peers in the think tank community as the global center of excellence for science and technology policy, ITIF’s mission is to formulate and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation and boost productivity to spur growth, opportunity, and progress.