A bill that could heavily curb American’s freedoms is quietly moving through congress



Code streams down on a computer screen

Jimmy Feeney, Multimedia Manager

The world, as is known, is filled with abnormalities at this moment. Every state issuing strict guidelines for protecting against COVID-19, with the majority electing to put in place stay at home orders. So with all this chaos, what better timing to push through a very controversial bill through Congress.

The EARN IT act, sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham, aims to heavily crackdown on online child exploitation within the United States. The idea of this bill is universally supported, as obviously the idea of ending child exploitation is a good thing for the country.

A major part of the bill is that technology companies, such as Instagram, Reddit, WhatsApp and many more have to earn Section 230 protections. Section 230 protections essentially states that companies are not responsible for what their users post or do and that they can’t be held liable for it. 

Section 230 protections have just been granted to companies automatically since its inception. Now, if this bill passes, companies will have to “earn them.”

This presents an immediate issue. If companies are held liable for what their users say, immediately those companies will be forced to heavily moderate what people say on their platform, as the blood of someone else’s words will be on their hands. 

Therefore, the right to free speech, the 1st amendment, is going to be hard to come by if the EARN IT act was passed, as tech companies will immediately remove anything that could potentially be construed as illegal.

That issue, however, is not the only issue with the EARN IT act. The act doesn’t explicitly say it, but the act could be the demise of end-to-end encryption, used in many messaging apps, which aims to keep the personal messages of a person safe, and a lot harder to read if you get into the system of a messaging application.

Google, the service of which the PVCSD is currently relying on, provides end-to-end encryption for their Drive services. If end-to-end encryption is ended in this country, or at least a backdoor is created, the information of which the school and students hold on Google could be at risk, putting private information in the hands of the wrong people, and violating the privacy that the school uses and provides for their students.

The bill doesn’t say it won’t ask for a backdoor around end-to-end encryption. However, the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham, isn’t reassuring about that. “Facebook is talking about end-to-end encryption which means they go blind,” Graham said. “We’re not going to go blind and let this abuse go forward in the name of any other freedom.”

Senator Graham here is saying that the freedoms that are guaranteed to us by the constitution, are not guaranteed here. Graham, along with many others, wishes to be able to see everyone’s messages and surveil them. This reality seems 1984esque, as whatever you say could be monitored by the government in the name of “safety.”

To speak without the fear of retaliation is one of the foundations of this country. The idea of freedom, and to say what you want to say, without the possibility of governmental interference. To say this could be the first step to ending the right to speech in the United States would certainly be an overstatement. However, taking steps to watch what people say more and more will only make it seem as if that is the case.