Lindsey Graham's bill could radically limit liability exemptions for tech companies

In spite of its good intentions to root our child exploitative content, it's a sloppily drafted bill that could backfire.

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Tech companies cherish liability protections for their platforms but these well-loved legal shields could soon come under attack. One of Donald Trump's most vocal supporters and South Carolina's well-known Republican Lindsey Graham has drafted a bill that would effectively do away with end-to-end encryption and liability exemptions for platforms.

EARN IT — Graham's bill is officially titled the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (otherwise known as EARN IT). The bill is purportedly against child exploitation content on platforms but internet activists worry that it could hit companies like Facebook, Apple, and others by limiting how far they can encrypt their users' data.

Normally, tech companies are not liable for what third parties post on their mediums. This protection comes under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The Republican senator's amendment to this crucial section would, however, make these firms liable for prosecution, both state-level and civil cases, over content that is deemed abusive toward young children.

A backdoor for the police — Through EARN IT, law enforcement authorities could have a backdoor to these platforms and attain private data upon request. The bill calls for a collection of best practices to implement for these platforms, which then could be entirely modified by Attorney General William Barr.

A path to disarray paved with good intentions — Child exploitative content is unacceptable and grounds for legal investigation. This goes without saying. But Graham's EARN IT doesn't fix the problem; it worsens it. Although imperfect, platforms like Facebook already have moderation policies in place. They need to be strengthened and improved, not entirely replaced with a ban on end-to-end encryption and a door to surveil private individuals. Furthermore, blocking encryption won't stop abusers as they can, and do, find other routes to continue their reprehensible activities. These concerns are being brought up all over the internet.

Critics can take a bit of solace in the fact that the bill is just a draft right now and Graham is open to a public workshop on the matter in February. So, if you have an opinion, let the senator know.