A bipartisan team of members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday introduced a bill aimed at curbing the online spread of child sexual abuse. Technology and civil liberties groups have previously said such content is an attack on “strong encryption”, which is vital to billions of people around the world.
The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-A., and Senator Richard Blumenthal, A.M., would mean that once approved, If online platforms such as Facebook and Alphabet’s Google do not comply with a new commission’s “best practices” for monitoring images of child sexual abuse, the companies’ civil immunity from users’ postings will be ended. Security experts and tech industry groups have condemned the bill, saying it is an opportunity to crack down on child sexual abuse to threaten encryption designed to protect ordinary Americans and businesses.
In addition to Graham and Blumenthal, the bill has eight other co-sponsors, including Diane Feinstein, the Democratic leader on the Judiciary Committee, Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse, along with Republican senators Josh Hawley, Kevin Cramer and Joni Ernst.
The strong line-up means that the bill is likely to be approved by the Judiciary Committee, at least to the Senate, and will not be vetoed in the early days of attempts to curb strong encryption. Whether it can be approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives is an open question.
The bill would overturn the immunity of companies such as Facebook under a federal law provision known as Section 230, which protects online platforms from being held accountable for most of the content they send from users by protecting them from the posting of information they send.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, one of the authors of Section 230, criticized the bill. “This terrible legislation is a ‘Trojan horse’ that will give Attorney General Barr and (Us President) Donald Trump the power to control online speech and give the government access to all aspects of American life,” he said. “
“In terms of the protection of minors, (the online platform) will have to find the first way to win full protection of responsibility,” Graham said in a statement. “
Mr Blumenthal says technology companies need to do better. “Technology companies have a special protection that exempts them from legal liability, but they must also be held accountable for this unique protection.” He said, noting that immunity from legal liability “is a privilege – they have to try to win it – and that’s what this bipartisan bill requires.”
The move is the latest example of how U.S. regulators and members of Congress are reconsidering the need to provide incentives to technology companies that have helped Internet companies grow, but are increasingly seen as obstacles that make cybercrime, hate speech and extremism difficult to contain.
Opponents of the bill argue that one of the inevitable consequences is that “best practices” do not cover end-to-end encryption, which prevents technology companies, police and hackers from reading information unless they have access to the devices used to send or receive it.
Thomas Richards, a Facebook spokesman, said the company was concerned that the bill would limit the ability of U.S. companies to provide private security services.
“This bill creates the wrong choice between protecting children and supporting strong encryption protection. Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, a coalition of high-tech companies whose members include companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.
The American Civil Liberties Union also said the bill would threaten the safety of activists, victims of domestic violence and millions of others who rely on strong encryption every day.
Matthew Green, a professor of security engineering at Johns Hopkins University, said one requirement for the bill was that two members of the new committee need edgy or data security-related experience, suggesting that the bill was directly targeting encryption.
“This bill would be a major disruption to data security. Green posted on Twitter. “Worse, this bill would allow law enforcement to politicize CSAM (ultrasonic scanning microscope) testing, permanently undermining any opportunity for Silicon Valley to build an efficient relationship with organizations that care about the issue.” “