The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT Act, S. 3538, H.R. 6544) is bipartisan legislation which removes immunity for social media and technology companies that knowingly facilitate the distribution of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) on their platforms. The bill updates existing federal statues to use the term “child sexual abuse material” instead of “child pornography.” The term child pornography fails to describe the true nature of the images and undermines the seriousness of the abuse.
Currently, the technology industry maintains a liability protection shield for third-party content. This bill removes the immunity specifically regarding child exploitation, by allowing for state civil and criminal lawsuits, as well as federal civil lawsuits, if companies advertise, promote, distribute, or solicit child sexual abuse material. There is precedent. In 2018, Congress removed technology companies’ liability protections for facilitating sex trafficking on online platforms.
The EARN IT Act also establishes a commission of survivors, technology representatives, and government stakeholders to create recommendations and voluntary best practices for technology companies to respond to the global pandemic of online sexual exploitation of children. These best practices will enable law enforcement to obtain evidence to prioritize actionable cases and save children.
Online platforms have fueled the extreme and unprecedented proliferation of child sexual abuse material. Law enforcement has repeatedly warned that children are groomed, enticed, exploited, trafficked, and abused online through platforms we use every day. This has only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, 29.3 million reports of child sexual abuse material were made to the Cyber Tipline hosted by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), the nation’s clearinghouse and comprehensive reporting center for all issues related to the prevention of and recovery from child victimization. Technology companies have the photo DNA technology, but have not had the accountability. This legislation provides a pathway forward.
GFWC applauds the efforts of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, the National Children’s Alliance, Child Rescue Coalition, Enough is Enough, Protect Young Eyes, law enforcement organizations, among others, to advocate for this measure as victim-centric and one that removes this narrow liability protection for technology companies, and creates recommendations and voluntary best practices for technology companies. GFWC sincerely appreciates the efforts of Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representatives Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) and Ann Wagner (R-MO) for sponsoring this bipartisan legislation.
By removing liability protections for third-party content, Congress will certainly encourage the technology industry to take action to prevent online child sexual exploitation.