WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) today reintroduced bipartisan legislation to encourage the tech industry to take online child sexual exploitation seriously.
The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT Act) removes blanket immunity for violations of laws related to online child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
“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,” said Senator Graham. “The EARN IT Act removes Section 230 blanket liability protection from service providers in the area of child sexual abuse material on their sites. 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: we hear you. The days of children being exploited on the internet and their families being unable to do anything about it are coming to an end.”
“The EARN IT Act is very simply about whether tech companies should be held responsible for their complicity in the sexual abuse and exploitation of children when they refuse to report or remove images of these crimes hosted on their platforms,” said Senator Blumenthal. “The modern internet is infested with stomach-churning images of children who have been brutally assaulted and exploited, and who are haunted by a lifetime of pain after these photographs and videos are circulated online. Tech companies have long had ready access to low-cost, or even free tools to combat the scourge of child sexual abuse material but have failed to act. Millions of these horrifying images go unidentified and unreported by the tech platforms that host them because there are so few consequences when these companies look the other way. That ends with the EARN IT Act.”
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 billbolsters enforcement of child sexual abuse material 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.
- 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 is supported by more than 240 groups, survivors and stakeholders, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), Rights4Girls, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, National District Attorneys Association, National Association of Police Organizations, 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), Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), John Kennedy (R-Louisiana), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi), and Mark Warner (D-Virginia).
Representatives Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
“There’s no reason Big Tech should be given special immunity from laws against child pornography,” said Senator Hawley. “This commonsense bill was approved unanimously in committee last Congress. Big Tech needs to be held responsible for their role in distributing child pornography.”
“The exploitation of children online is beyond abhorrent, and tech companies must step up to combat the prevalent and growing problem of online child abuse,” said Senator Durbin. “The EARN IT Act – targeted, bipartisan legislation that addresses this urgent challenge – was voted unanimously out of the Judiciary Committee last Congress. I am pleased to support this bill again and will work to secure its swift passage.”
“Online child sexual exploitation is an egregious and sickening crime. Unfortunately, the use of online platforms has increased the spread of child sexual abuse materials, with children across the U.S., including in Alaska, being groomed, enticed, exploited, trafficked, and abused through online platforms many Americans use every day. And, despite clear and demonstrated ramifications, online child sexual exploitation has not received a consistent and forceful response from the tech industry,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m glad to join in introducing legislation which will help put law enforcement, tech, and survivors at the same table to determine best methods for addressing online child sexual exploitation.”
“Protecting our kids from sexual predators is something we can all agree on, and it’s long past time tech companies took the scourge of online child sexual exploitation seriously,” said Senator Ernst. “I’m proud to support this bipartisan effort that will help modernize our internet laws to combat the proliferation of child sexual abuse material online and encourage the tech industry to protect children from sexual exploitation on their platforms.”
“Companies can’t simply ignore child exploitation on their online platforms,” said Senator Feinstein. “Companies that fail to take the necessary steps to prevent child exploitation shouldn’t be protected from lawsuits. I hope the Senate is able to act promptly to solve this growing problem.”
“The online exploitation of children remains a serious and growing problem that must be addressed by Congress and Big Tech cooperatively. The EARN IT Act would set this serious effort in motion. The protection of children from predators, pornographers, and worse demands that we act,” said Senator Hyde-Smith.
“We need to empower law enforcement with the resources they need to crack down on the trafficking and sexual abuse of children,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “As big technology companies evolve, we must make sure to protect our kids, who are too often left vulnerable to exploitation online. I will continue to work across the aisle to pass this legislation and keep children safe.”
“No company should ever profit from the exploitation of a child, nor avoid legal responsibility in a court of law ,” said Senator Portman. “That is why I am pleased to co-sponsor this important legislation to remove tech companies’ blanket immunity afforded by Section 230 from Federal and State child sexual abuse material laws. This legislation ensures that online platforms will now be treated like everyone else in our efforts to combat child sexual exploitation online.”
“I’m proud to join my colleagues on this important piece of legislation that would protect children from exploitation and make needed reforms to Section 230,” said Senator Warner.
“Far too many children across the nation are at risk of exploitation online. In order to strengthen safeguards, we must ensure that our laws keep up with constantly evolving technology,” said Senator Collins. “I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan bill that would spur tech companies to step up their efforts to protect children. ”
“Technology companies have a responsibility to crack down on child sexual abuse material on their platforms, and we must hold the predators who engage in these horrific crimes accountable,” said Senator Hassan. “This bipartisan bill will pressure tech companies to work to protect children and address these crimes with the seriousness and urgency that they deserve.”