12 February 2022
HOLDING SILICON VALLEY ACCOUNTABLE
Legislation to protect children advances in Senate
The Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition is closely following controversial legislation that would punish tech companies responsible for website postings that exploit children.
"It's long overdue," says Marisa Ugarte, BSCC executive director.
“They are using Instagram, they're using Facebook, they are using different avenues to get to the children, and it is the responsibility of the big people, like Facebook and Apple, to prevent this from happening.”
Washington lawmakers, with bipartisan support, were able to clear the "Earn It" act
through a committee and onto the Senate Floor. More hurdles remain and the opposition is fierce.
Opponents say it violates First Amendment rights; proponents (like the BSCC), other sexual exploitation groups, and law enforcement are elated with the bill’s early victory.
GIZMODO, a pro-industry website, said the bill was thought dead but “clawed its way out of a warm, shallow grave and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a voice vote on Thursday. Now, the reintroduced bill will head to the Senate floor.”
Under the act, tech companies will be facing more lawsuits over posts of child sexual abuse material on their platforms. The bill, first introduced in 2020, would create a national commission of law enforcement, abuse survivors, and industry experts to develop best practices to address child abuse online. Supporters of the measure provided this youtube:
The bill, quoting from a recent Washington Post story is “calibrated to really stop the most detestable and despicable kinds of child abuse involving really horrific pornographic images that follow these kids all their lives,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who co-sponsored the legislation with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).
Ugarte points out that the proposal had bipartisan support, a good sign she believes. “The Republicans and Democrats agreed to hold the big networks accountable for what they're doing,” she says. "It will not be easy," Ugarte continues, “it's such a powerful industry; it generates an enormous amount of money.” And they will generate an enormous amount of opposition, as seen in a letter to the Senate from an advocacy group, Electronic Freedom Foundation: “We support curbing the scourge of child exploitation online. However, EARN IT will actually make it harder for law enforcement to protect children. It will also result in online censorship that will disproportionately impact marginalized communities and will jeopardize access to encrypted services”
Letter in opposition:
Supporters of the legislation argue the benefits outweigh most other considerations.
That victims found through the Internet are a priority. Anthony Zenkus of Columbia University told a panel of supporters of the legislation that “child sexual abuse and exploitation can leave impacts on the body and brain that can last a lifetime.”