The Senate Gets a Step Closer to Rooting Out Child Sexual Exploitation from Internet

July 2, 2020 Updated: July 2, 2020

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill Thursday that holds tech companies accountable for not eliminating content that sexually exploits children, by taking away their legal protections from lawsuits.

The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act of 2020 passed by a vote of 22-0. The bipartisan legislation introduced by Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)  pushes the tech industry to take online child sexual exploitation seriously.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the EARN IT Act, which is designed to incentivize service providers, including social media companies, to protect their products from sexual exploitation of minors by predators and to deal with the scourge of child sexual abuse material on the internet,” said Graham in a statement Thursday.

Child Advocacy groups working against the exploitation of minors received information of close to 70 million photos, videos, and files depicting the sexual exploitation of children that were circulating on the internet in 2019.

“There are tens of millions of photos and videos circulating throughout the internet, showing the most heinous acts of sexual abuse and torture of children. The EARN IT Act removes Section 230 blanket liability protection from service providers in the area of child sexual abuse and child sexual abuse material on their sites,” said Graham.

Sen. Graham thanked colleagues Blumenthal and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) for offering the amendments that made the bill more effective in stopping child exploitation.

“I want to thank Senator Blumenthal for all of his hard work and making this possible. Without his leadership and input, the bill would not have gone forward. Senator Leahy’s amendment addressed many legitimate concerns, and I appreciate his willingness to work to a solution. Senator Lee was very helpful and we will continue to work with him,” said Graham.

“I have never been more proud of the Committee, as a body, than I am right now. Everybody took this problem seriously and we came together. And, if Congress accepts the Committee’s recommendation, the children of America will be better off for it,” he added.

The bill encourages the tech industry to help end online child sexual exploitation by amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to remove all-encompassing immunity from Federal civil, State criminal, and State civil child sexual abuse material laws entirely.

The Legislation will treat Tech companies “like everyone else” and strips them of their legal protection against lawsuits if they do not root out child exploitation materials from their digital space.

Prior to the legislation, and having limited liability, companies did not do much to go after online child sexual exploitation.

“The EARN IT Act’s goal is to create voluntary best business practices to protect children from exploitation and to better police these sites when it comes to child predators. If the companies in question are employing the best business practices, that would be a defense in any civil suit,” continued Graham.

The legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

In order to become law, the legislation must now be considered by the full Senate and the House, before being signed by President Donald Trump.

“I will urge the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders to take this legislation up as soon as possible. We have many differences in Congress on a variety of issues, and a level of dysfunction that I regret. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s unanimous vote to pass to EARN IT Act gives me hope,” Graham said.

“I am hopeful and expect that President Trump will enthusiastically support this measure,” added Graham.