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Senate Judiciary Committee Unanimously Approves EARN IT Act

Graham makes statement on the future of tech legislation

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement after the committee unanimously approved legislation he authored with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act of 2023 (S. 1207).

“I was very pleased the EARN IT Act, which I introduced along with Senator Blumenthal, unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

“It’s sad but true that under current law, consumers cannot bring lawsuits against social media companies for harm caused to them or to their loved ones. The EARN IT Act changes that. It would allow states and survivors of online child sexual exploitation to finally hold social media companies accountable if they look the other way on the distribution of child sexual abuse material.

“The tech industry needs to be held accountable. The EARN IT Act is a step in the right direction.

“However, the political and economic power of social media companies is overwhelming. I have little hope that common-sense proposals like this will ever become law because of the lobbying power these companies have at their disposal.

“My next approach is going to be to sunset Section 230 liability protection for social media companies. Section 230 bars Americans from seeking relief in courts against the abuse in their lives caused by social media companies. If we cannot pass a law or series of laws to protect the American consumer, then it’s time to open up the American courtrooms as a way to protect consumers against abuse from the social media companies.”

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. Service providers will now be treated like everyone else when it comes to combating child sexual exploitation and eradicating child sexual abuse material (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 CSAM statutes and allows survivors civil recourse.

Background on the EARN IT Act:

  • In July 2020, the EARN IT Act (S. 3398) passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously.
  • In February 2022, the EARN IT Act (S.3538) passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously.
  • 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.
  • 32 million reports of online child sexual exploitation were reported in 2022 alone, including 49.4 million images, and 37.7 million videos.

The EARN IT Act is supported by more than 200 groups, survivors and stakeholders, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), Rights4Girls, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, National District Attorneys Association, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, International Justice Mission, and Major Cities Chiefs Association.

The legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), John Kennedy (R-Louisiana), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi), Mark Warner (D-Virginia), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee).

Representatives Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) have introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.