July 02, 2020

Chairman Graham Applauds Senate Judiciary Committee for Unanimously Approving the EARN IT Act

“To those who shared the horrors of child sexual abuse on the internet with the Committee, you inspired us to act and you made it impossible for us to look away.”

WASHINGTON – Today the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act of 2020 (S. 3398) by a vote of 22-0. The bipartisan legislation introduced by Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) would encourage the tech industry to take online child sexual exploitation seriously. The legislation must now be considered by the full Senate.

“To all the victim groups and law enforcement entities urging Congress to do something about the scourge of child sexual abuse material and the exploitation of children on the internet, the Committee heard you and acted decisively.

“To those who shared the horrors of child sexual abuse on the internet with the Committee, you inspired us to act and you made it impossible for us to look away. The days of children being exploited on the internet and their families being unable to do anything about it are quickly coming to an end.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the EARN IT Act, which is designed to incentivize service providers, including social media companies, to protect their products from sexual exploitation of minors by predators and to deal with the scourge of child sexual abuse material on the internet.

“There are tens of millions of photos and videos circulating throughout the internet, showing the most heinous acts of sexual abuse and torture of children. The EARN IT Act removes Section 230 blanket liability protection from service providers in the area of child sexual abuse and child sexual abuse material on their sites. The EARN IT Act’s goal is to create voluntary best business practices to protect children from exploitation and to better police these sites when it comes to child predators. If the companies in question are employing the best business practices, that would be a defense in any civil suit.

“I will urge the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders to take this legislation up as soon as possible. We have many differences in Congress on a variety of issues, and a level of dysfunction that I regret. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s unanimous vote to pass to EARN IT Act gives me hope.

“It is now time to take the bill to the floor.

“I want to thank Senator Blumenthal for all of his hard work and making this possible. Without his leadership and input, the bill would not have gone forward. Senator Leahy’s amendment addressed many legitimate concerns, and I appreciate his willingness to work to a solution. Senator Lee was very helpful and we will continue to work with him.

“I have never been more proud of the Committee, as a body, than I am right now. Everybody took this problem seriously and we came together. And, if Congress accepts the Committee’s recommendation, the children of America will be better off for it.

“I am hopeful and expect that President Trump will enthusiastically support this measure,” said Graham.

During the markup, the Committee unanimously approved two amendments that addressed input from members of the Committee and other stakeholders. The EARN IT Act, as amended, would eliminate blanket liability protection for violations of laws related to online child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

The legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota), Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), Doug Jones (D-Alabama), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), John Kennedy (R-Louisiana), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

The EARN IT Act has robust support from groups, survivors and stakeholders, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), Rights4Girls, and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

Highlights of the EARN IT Act

  • Creates a strong incentive for the tech industry to take online child sexual exploitation seriously. The bill amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to remove blanket immunity from Federal civil, State criminal, and State civil child sexual abuse material laws entirely. Service providers will now be treated like everyone else when it comes to combating child sexual exploitation and eradicating CSAM, creating accountability.
  • Establishes a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention that will be responsible for developing voluntary best practices. The Commission consists of the heads of DOJ, DHS, and FTC, along with 16 other members appointed equally by Congressional leadership, including representatives from: law enforcement, survivors and victims’ services organizations, constitutional law experts, technical experts, and industry.
  • Recourse for survivors and tools for enforcement. The bill bolsters enforcement of child sexual abuse material statutes and allows survivors civil recourse.

Background on the EARN IT Act:

  • In July 2019, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled, “Protecting Innocence in a Digital World.”
  • Later in 2019, the New York Times published a series of investigative reports, describing the rapid increase of CSAM on prominent online platforms. This is a threat that has not received a consistent and forceful response from the tech industry.
    • Reports of suspected online child sexual exploitation to the NCMEC CyberTipline have exploded since its inception. For example, over the past five years, reports increased from 1.1 million in 2014 to 16.9 million covering 69.1 million photos, videos, and files in 2019.   
  • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives “interactive computer services” significant immunity from civil liability, as well as state criminal liability for third party content on their platforms.  Sadly, given this limited liability, many companies do not aggressively go after online child sexual exploitation.
  • The EARN IT Act was introduced in March 2020.
  • Later in March 2020, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled, “The EARN IT Act: Holding the Tech Industry Accountable in the Fight Against Online Child Sexual Exploitation.”