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[NEWS] Just like Groundhog Day, EARN IT is back

Privacy advocates and many others in the tech industry are raising the alarm about US legislation that would increase surveillance, put excess pressure on online services while simultaneously providing loopholes for child predators to escape conviction.

The EARN IT Act (also known as the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act) would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to require all companies that engage in providing Internet services — from hosting providers to blogging platforms to mobile providers to social media — to actively search for child sexual abuse material. 

The bill was shot down back in 2020 due to its overwhelming opposition, but like a scene from Groundhog Day, it’s back, thanks to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The resurrected bill recently passed consideration in the US Senate Judiciary and is on track for consideration by the entire Senate.

While the goals of the Act may seem like a great idea, there are actually many reasons to oppose this new legislation.

As a refresher, Section 230 says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This means that these services cannot be held legally responsible for illegal content uploaded to their platform by one of their users. 

The new law would upend this provision of Section 230, requiring companies to actively search for illegal content on their services, an undue burden that could undermine all but the largest companies. As Slate notes, already companies voluntarily turn in massive amounts of data indicating potential harm to children to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The EARN IT law wouldn’t necessarily increase the amount of information that companies send but would require considerably more resources to achieve the same goal. 

Electronic Frontier Foundation explains how the EARN IT bill could mean “serious legal risk for business that hosts content,” as companies would be legally required to report every infraction in all user data, including everything from text messages to cloud storage of photos and documents, as well as websites, newsletters, and social media messages.

But putting aside potential costs and inconvenience to Internet providers and platforms, there are other reasons to oppose the EARN IT bill. 

There’s the privacy angle. EFF warns that “the EARN IT Act compromises security and free speech for everyone.” We are already dealing with overarching surveillance in many aspects of our lives. The EARN IT bill would require companies to scan, filter, and sort through every single communication made online, keeping copies and using AI technology to determine bad actors.

And then there’s the potential for false positives. Do you trust a computer with your life? With EARN IT, your cute baby photos, the horror novel you’re writing, or a tasteless meme you sent to your buddies, could suddenly trigger alarm bells. In the eyes of artificial intelligence systems churning through the billions of social images and text messages sent every day, there will certainly be items that are misinterpreted in myriad ways. When the FBI comes to your door, that meme might not be so funny anymore. 

If none of the above arguments move you to action, this one might. As Slate explains, Internet companies right now have the legal obligation to report, but not search, for illegal content, which allows them to operate outside of the Fourth Amendment. This protects Americans from unreasonable searches. The EARN IT bill violates constitutional rights, providing a possible defense for defendants. Slate states that “as a result, the bill could lead to fewer convictions of child predators, not more,” and that this isn’t just conjecture — defense attorneys have tried using this angle but because companies didn’t actively look for evidence, courts have held that no one’s rights were violated. With the passage of this bill, things would change quickly.

What to do? EFF has an action page that will help Americans connect to their Senators and Representatives. 

In other news

  • Apple addresses Air Tags stalking concerns. We recently discussed the potential misuse of Apple Air Tags in our podcast, after many had expressed concern the tags could aid stalkers to track their victims. Air Tags demonstrate accuracy to 0.1ft when used to track an item, but if thrown into someone’s luggage, could theoretically track a person. BBC technology reports Apple has promised (in response to proof of stalking using Air Tags) to introduce a series of countermeasures, including linking your Apple ID to any Air Tag to easily identify who is deploying the tracking tech.
  • Diversifying the semiconductor chip market. Semiconductor chips, which run every device linked to the Internet. are largely manufactured in Taiwan and Japan. Some feel it is time to diversify this market, reducing the dominance of Asian suppliers post-pandemic. A suggested alternative is UK manufacturer ARM, already partnered with Japan’s Softbank group. However, a failed recent attempt to secure investment from game-chip firm Nvidia has set back plans to expand local manufacturing. The BBC reports ARM’s new CEO, Rene Haas is keen to emphasize this won’t affect company plans: “There isn’t anything Nvidia and Arm could do together that we can’t do by ourselves.” Yet Softbank is an influential partner, and stock watchers at marketscreener.com, were quick to spot the launch of ARM’s IPO listing with the NASDAQ in New York instead of London. 
  • Hold on to your flash memory sticks. Recent factory contamination at Western Digital and Kloxia’s manufacturing base in Japan caused the loss of an estimated 6.5 exabytes, or more than 6.5 million terabytes, of storage in production. Combined with recent chip supply shortages, Gizmodo warns that flash memory stick price rises are imminent, as the group currently serves 30% of the world’s market, and this loss represents 10% of total market consumption (for a quarter of a year). The loss affects tech installed in cars, phones, and everyday devices relying on flash memory — which means consumers will likely experience secondary market price rises for these products.
  • By your words, you will be judged. Through AI technology, experts at the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, a team within the US government, are now using online text to develop identity verification markers. Researchers want to create a verbiage “fingerprint” to identify individual people publishing disinformation online. And not just to reduce Facebook spam. The ultimate goal is to fight back against human trafficking. While still in the early stages, text-based fingerprinting is based on forensic techniques used to determine someone’s identity, made famous after the 1996 arrest of the Unabomber. The program is known as HIATUS—human interpretable attribution of text using underlying structure. How’s that for an acronym! 
  • Polymers stronger than steel. MIT scientists have created a strong but lightweight polymer that has huge implications for the future. Polymers, usually associated with plastics, form spaghetti-like chains that connect to each other in a mesh-like fashion. It’s been long hypothesized that if polymers grew into 2D sheets, they would form a material that was not only lightweight but as strong as steel. In the future, this new material could be used to coat cars, phones, and even bridges.
  • Elon Musk’s space maladventures continue. It’s a mixed news week for Elon Musk. His plans to launch a human crewed space shuttle hit a delay, with the Starship space project launch stalled by the F.A.A. until April due to environmental concerns about the Boca China site. SpaceX, Musk’s ambitious plan to provide the world with Internet through space satellites just lost a bunch of them due to a geomagnetic storm according to Technology Review. But on the positive side of things, Engadget has a story vindicating Musk’s SpaceX company over a controversial bit of space junk that was expected to crash into the moon. Turns out China is in the frame for this, after an expert identified the spaceship debris as theirs.
  • Crypto recovered for BitFinex investors. CNN reports A New York couple has been arrested on charges of conspiring to launder $4.5 billion in stolen cryptocurrency, and conspiring to defraud U.S.investors. In cooperation with international enforcement agencies, the U.S. Department of Justice finally caught up with the couple, Ilya “Dutch” Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31. BitFinex, the affected crypto exchange business, said in a statement it was working with the Department of Justice to “establish our rights to a return of an estimated 94,000 in stolen BitCoin.” The size of the cryptocurrency theft, the largest in history, has caused many pundits to label the couple a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.

Tip of the week

With so many burgeoning technologies aiming to identify us through every means possible, it’s critical to stand up for Internet freedom and privacy. But this is tricky to do alone, and there is power in numbers. From exposing data breaches to filing formal complaints against mega-corporations, two organizations provide excellent resources for guarding Internet freedoms. 

  • Members of the non-profit organization Fight for the Future are experienced organizers of online protests and the fight for the liberation of technology. 
  • NYOB, “uses best practices from consumer rights groups, privacy activists, hackers, and legal tech initiatives and merges them into a stable European enforcement platform.” 

Namecheap is focused on guarding Internet freedoms and the battle for your data protection, too. Read more about what our company is doing in the fight for online privacy

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Jackie Dana avatar

Jackie Dana

Jackie has been writing since childhood. As the Namecheap blog’s content manager and regular contributor, she loves bringing helpful information about technology and business to our customers. In her free time, she enjoys drinking copious amounts of black tea, writing novels, and wrangling a gang of four-legged miscreants. More articles written by Jackie.

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