We review and endorse the US Congress’ proposed Invest in Child Safety Act as a big step in the right direction to help prosecute and prevent sexual abuse of children. It is a viable alternative to The EARN IT Act and the latter’s adverse implications on privacy.
Alternative to The EARN IT Act
In a previous blog post (Reject the EARN IT Act), we argued that while the EARN IT Act is a well-intentioned effort to combat distribution of content sexually exploiting children, it has a number of flaws:
It unrealistically holds internet companies – including social media sites, cloud storage sites, user forums, email providers, and instant messaging services – potentially liable for illegal content that their users post on their platforms
It establishes an unelected commission to set standards that internet companies must meet
In particular, it is feared that one of those standards will be to curtail end-to-end encryption, resulting potentially in scanning everyone’s online content and/or stipulating that internet companies that provide encryption for privacy deliver a “back door” key to law enforcement, a back door which has the potential to be discovered by hackers or to be abused by governments
It does not do enough to enhance crime prevention, victim treatment, and law enforcement.
What is the Invest in Child Safety Act?
The Invest in Child Safety Act, sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, three other senators, and one Congresswoman, attacks the child safety problem more broadly by funding the resources necessary for crime prevention, victim treatment, investigation, and prosecution of sexual exploitation, without imposing onerous requirements on internet companies. Specifically, the Act’s provisions include the following:
Establishes an executive office and its director to enforce and protect against child sexual exploitation
The director will lead an inter-agency task force across prevention, treatment, investigation, and law enforcement dimensions
Significantly increases funding for treatment and support for victims of child sexual exploitation and for prevention programs as well as for law enforcement
Funding includes sharp increases in FBI agents dedicated to child sexual abuse; additional analysts, engineers, and others for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; "...quadruple the number of prosecutors and agents in the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section;" non-federal local and state support organizations as well as training programs
Increases the duration for which technology companies need to hold child sexual exploitation content to give prosecutors more time to pursue
Reporting to and oversight by Congress.
The document, Invest in Child Safety Act, contains endorsements by various professional individuals and organizations expert in child sexual exploitation.
The Invest in Child Safety Act is superior to the EARN IT Act
In our previous post, we urged Congress to pursue “…alternative legislation to pursue criminals that does not infringe upon everyone else’s privacy.” This initiative rises to meet that challenge:
It does not hold internet companies liable for objectionable content that their users post
It does not enter the slippery slope of diminishing encryption and privacy for everyone
It attacks the problem of child sexual exploitation more fundamentally by seriously funding prevention programs, treatment, law enforcement, and prosecution.
The proposed Act is not perfect.
Some, such as The Prostasia Foundation, have expressed reservations about aspects of the proposed Act despite its superiority to the EARN IT Act. Such reservations include a fear that funding is weighted more towards law enforcement rather than prevention or treatment; that funding of human trafficking task forces will go towards prosecuting adult sex workers rather than “predominantly towards arresting criminals who abduct minors into sexual slavery.”
Given the nature of politics, we have a concern that some kind of monstrous hybrid of the two acts will be legislated. For example, Congress could take the increased funding of this Invest in Child Safety Act without the inter-agency task force or new executive office, and still pursue the commission established by EARN IT and its edicts that will likely infringe upon privacy in general. That would be a misguided outcome in our view.
Nonetheless, it seems to us that the Invest in Child Safety Act is a big step in the right direction compared to the EARN IT Act, and that legislative oversight could address its shortcomings and enhance its productive components.
We repeat the call to urge Congress to reject the EARN IT Act, and to adopt The Invest in Child Safety Act as a more reasoned approach to prosecute, treat, and prevent sexual abuse of children.