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US Lawmakers Propose Internet Controls to Fight Child Porn

US lawmakers proposed legislation Thursday that could see internet companies held legally responsible for content on their platforms if they don’t do enough to police child pornography.

US lawmakers proposed legislation Thursday that could see internet companies held legally responsible for content on their platforms if they don’t do enough to police child pornography.

Senators from both parties, backed by the Department of Justice, said that existing laws immunizing internet hosts like social media companies from liability for user-posted content have allowed child pornography to proliferate.

But some legislators, Silicon Valley giants and civil liberties groups say the legislation could lead to broad censorship, by opening the door to prosecuting internet companies over any illegal content posted or exchanged by their customers.

They also say the legislation, and the Justice Department’s push for it, could be used to undermine online popular encryption services that stymie law enforcement investigations.

The legislation says companies would have to “earn” their liability protection, with a commission of government, industry, legal and victim groups representatives certifying their compliance.

“Everybody has an interest in fighting child abuse. The guys in this industry say we can do it, and we are going to do it by observing certain standards,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, one of the bill’s sponsors, told AFP.

“The internet is infested with this criminal conduct, and the images, and photos, and video of it. That’s our target.”

The bill would create a national commission with 19 members, including the heads of the Justice and Homeland Security department, who would set “best practices.”

– Rise in internet child porn –

Companies that adhere to the committee’s guidelines would maintain their immunity, while those that don’t could be prosecuted or sued by victims.

“Technology has made it easier to produce, conceal, and distribute child sexual abuse materials,” Attorney General Bill Barr said Thursday at an event announcing voluntary guidelines for internet companies.

“Over the last decade, the Department of Justice has seen a 160-percent increase in cases involving the production of videos and images of children who were sexually exploited and abused.”

Opponents however said that eliminating eroding automatic immunity to internet services hosts for one issue — child exploitation — could lead to further erosion on a wide array of issues.

“This terrible legislation is a Trojan horse to give Attorney General Barr and Donald Trump the power to control online speech and require government access to every aspect of Americans’ lives,” said Senator Ron Wyden.

He said the Justice Department already has the powers to pursue child abuse online, and accused the Trump administration of using the issue for political advantage and to limit free speech.

Others said that it would open the door to criminal charges and lawsuits against companies that offer encryption, endangering the service seen by civil libertarians as essential to protecting privacy.

“The EARN It Act threatens the safety of activists, domestic violence victims, and millions of others who rely on strong encryption every day,” said Kate Ruane, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Blumenthal rejected those criticisms.

The legislation “is by no means a Trojan horse, because it is focused exclusively on child abuse online,” he said.

“The goal is not to eliminate or necessarily reduce encryption,” he added.

“I will support only this kind of narrowly focused approach in this bill.”

Written By

AFP 2023

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