EARN IT Act: Congress uses Pandemic as Cover to Fight Against Encryption

Hazel Booth, Online Editor

“The world’s ending! Oh my god will I ever get to leave my house again? I should check to see if more people are infected or dead!” these thoughts are running through everyone’s minds these days. It’s understandable; fear is a strong emotion, and it feels like COVID-19 (Coronavirus) news is everywhere we look. But there are still so many other important things going on in the world overshadowed by coronavirus news and fear that we should be informed on. Many are understandably less concerned about legislature and civil rights unrelated to coronavirus in these times, but it’s important to continue to be a civically engaged member of the community.

Congress recently has been working to pass the EARN IT bill, which at first glace has a conspicuous, even valiant purpose, to work against child sex abusers on the internet.

 Unfortunately, this is another example of a law with good end goals that attempts to achieve those goals through erosion of rights like the PATRIOT Act did nearly two decades ago.

The right that could be stripped away this time is the right to privacy for texts, direct messages, etc. How this bill intends to do that is by creating a list of “Best Practices” that companies will be required to follow. There is a 19 person committee led by the Attorney General, who has veto power, and made up of various law enforcement agencies, and if a company has not followed the list then their legal protections will be removed. The legal protections in question keep companies like social media giants from being sued for the actions of their users and are the foundations upon which internet communication companies like Microsoft are built and enabled to perform the services they do. Without them, companies would be open to crippling legal liability that would near certainly hinder their financial stability.

What are these “Best Practices”? The most important one, the threat to encryption, a tool that ensures the privacy of messages, requires the government to be able to legally access any message. What this means is that companies wouldn’t be able to use end to end encryption, the encryption currently in use that ensures only those receiving and sending the message are able to see it.

To ask companies to intentionally weaken this encryption or leave a backdoor is a gross exploitation of the government’s power. Beyond giving the government technical access to every message, this weakening of encryption leaves messages vulnerable to hackers, cyberterrorists both foreign and domestic and is overall a great disservice to the national security of America and all who live in it.

This bill isn’t a done deal yet, and if you want to make a difference working against this bill, this site shows you options. Coronavirus is scary, but we shouldn’t let our rights be eroded in the midst of this pandemic.