By Joseph Marks
Senate Judiciary Committee member Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
A bipartisan bill aimed at curbing online child exploitation become ground zero yesterday in the battle over encryption, with each side accusing the other of acting in bad faith.
The dispute prompted by a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing demonstrates the vast gulf between advocates of super-strong encryption, who say it’s vital for
The bill at issue, the EARN IT Act, would strip tech companies of liability protections when their users share child pornography and other materials that exploit children. It would also establish a 19-member commission to create rules companies can follow to earn back that liability shield.
Tech companies and
Lawmakers, meanwhile, are accusing tech companies of using encryption as an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for criminal activity on their platforms.
“I think encryption is a red herring. It's a subterfuge,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of the bill’s lead sponsors, told me. “If we said we're going to prohibit any ban on [strong] encryption…
Tech companies’ real goal, Blumenthal charged, is not losing any portion of their liability shield — guaranteed by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — protecting them from being sued for anything users post on their sites. He characterized those protections as a relic of an earlier era when Internet companies needed special protections to innovate and thrive.
“The tech companies are so self-interested and self-absorbed that they're focusing on how their legal shield may be pierced rather than how they shield children from abuse and exploitation,” he said.
Any recommendations from the commission — including any effort to weaken encryption — would require support from 14 of its 19 members, which will include Cabinet secretaries, technologists, law enforcement and sexual exploitation victims and their advocates. Those recommendations would also have to be approved in Congress.
Here’s more from Blumenthal on Twitter:
They acknowledge end-to-end encryption makes it tougher for both companies and law enforcement to monitor possible child exploitation. But they argue weakening it would be far too damaging because any encryption back door designed for police could also be targeted by hackers.
“Basically, I see this as a cowardly measure to maintain plausible deniability that this is not about encryption,” Riana Pfefferkorn, associate director of surveillance and
“The message from Congress
Will Cathcart, who leads Facebook’s end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp messaging service, argued on Twitter that the EARN IT Act “has the potential to make people less safe, not more, by reducing the security of
The online dating company Match Group, which owns Tinder,
Even among lawmakers there was a split about how directly the bill might target encryption protections.
During the hearing, Blumenthal said repeatedly that the EARN IT Act is “not an encryption bill.” He also noted that some platforms have made substantial progress combating material that exploits children despite using end-to-end encryption.
Blumenthal is not willing, however, to include a measure in the bill that says encryption is off-limits in the proposed commission's recommendations, he told me.
“I doubt I am the best qualified person to decide what best practices should be," he said. “Better-qualified people to make these decisions will be represented on the commission. So, to ban or require one best practice or another [beforehand] I just think leads us down a very perilous road.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S
“The bill is not about the encryption debate, but, the best business practices [the commission will recommend], I’m dying to find out what they should be," he said.
PINGED, PATCHED, PWNED
Vice President Pence during a
Warner is urging the
Warner also slammed President Trump for “injudicious and false statements” about the virus that contradict the advice of his administration's own health experts and could “legitimize already widespread online misinformation.”
The White House, meanwhile, is asking large tech companies to help it combat misinformation about the
The European Union is also reviving an alliance with U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security.
Top DHS cybersecurity official Chris Krebs praised the victory on Twitter, calling the legislation “critical” to the agency's mission.
The bill, which was passed by the House Homeland Security Committee in January, could still face some roadblocks before becoming law. Some
Attendees check their smartphone devices near a 5G sign.
The Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2020 comes amid widespread concern about Chinese spying on 5G networks and after the Trump administration already banned the Chinese telecom Huawei from building U.S.
“It is long past time that the Trump Administration prepare our networks for the 5G future — this bill will force the Administration to do exactly that and ensure federal agencies work together on a comprehensive plan to secure 5G,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.