Congress revives legislation that would trash online privacy and security
Bad ideas may be defeated in official Washington. But that doesn’t mean they are forgotten. A very bad idea like the EARN IT Act, which threatened both online privacy and security, went down in flames back in 2020.
Now it’s back, as bad as ever, and (of course) with bipartisan support:
Let’s be clear: the new EARN IT Act would pave the way for a massive new surveillance system, run by private companies, that would roll back some of the most important privacy and security features in technology used by people around the globe. It’s a framework for private actors to scan every message sent online and report violations to law enforcement. And it might not stop there. The EARN IT Act could ensure that anything hosted online—backups, websites, cloud photos, and more—is scanned.
Why on earth would members of Congress believe such Big Brother tech is necessary? Because they firmly believe Big Tech is a threat, while also being in the grip of various moral panics. Only spying, the worthies believe, can fix it all:
The EARN IT Act doesn’t target Big Tech. It targets every individual internet user, treating us all as potential criminals who deserve to have every single message, photograph, and document scanned and checked against a government database. Since direct government surveillance would be blatantly unconstitutional and provoke public outrage, EARN IT uses tech companies—from the largest ones to the very smallest ones—as its tools.
The strategy is to get private companies to do the dirty work of mass surveillance. This is the same tactic that the U.S. government used last year, when law enforcement agencies tried to convince Apple to subvert its own encryption and scan users’ photos for them. (That plan has stalled out after overwhelming opposition.)
Time to put this exceedingly bad idea back in the legislative morgue where it belongs.