Recently, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the “Strengthening Transparency and Obligation to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act of 2023” (STOP CSAM Act), a bill intended to provide additional, valuable protections for victims of online child sexual exploitation. The bill makes changes to the criminal code and improves some reporting requirements in regard to CSAM, but it also contains provisions that would strongly disincentivize digital platforms from designing their systems securely with end-to-end encryption. “EARN IT Act,” a bill that aims to increase the liability of platforms with respect to unlawful child abuse material but that would also harm user security and privacy, was previously scheduled for a markup with STOP CSAM Act and will likely be scheduled for the same markup soon.
The STOP CSAM Act would subject platforms to civil liability under a knowledge standard that is so low that simply being aware that a service can be used for CSAM, including by being enabled through the use of end-to-end encryption, would likely be enough for litigation to be initiated. By discouraging the use of end-to-end encryption, the bill will weaken the privacy and security of everyday communication services without any net benefit to public safety or the protection of the victims of CSAM. These and other concerns with the STOP CSAM Act are highlighted by Public Knowledge in its updated Section 230 reform scorecard for the 118th Congress.
The following can be attributed to Lisa Macpherson, Senior Policy Analyst at Public Knowledge:
“Congress should absolutely act to curb the scourge of child exploitation online. Changes to the law, including STOP CSAM’s improved reporting system, accompanied by increases in funding for law enforcement and victim assistance, could provide valuable support for victims of online child sexual exploitation. However, the provisions that encourage monitoring of all users’ private communications and data, and those that discourage end-to-end encryption, as well as the use of Section 230 carve-outs to enforce greater transparency and accountability by digital platforms, fail our principles for protecting free expression online. We urge Congress to abandon those provisions, as they jeopardize the privacy and safety that encryption ensures for all users of digital communications services.”
You may view our principles to ensure that any Section 230 reform still protects free expression online – a test STOP CSAM Act clearly fails in our Section 230 scorecard for the 118th Congress.
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