Websites could be held liable for child sexual abuse content under a bill passed by a Senate panel

WASHINGTON—Internet platforms could be held liable for child pornography content on their sites under a bill passed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

The measure, known as the Earn It Act, would reduce the broad immunity given to internet platforms for the content of their sites under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Bipartisan endorsement of the measure – despite objections from industry groups including Meta Platforms Inc.

Facebook and Alphabet Inc.

Google—is giving momentum to this legislation and other bills to overhaul Section 230.

“Our goal is to tell social media companies, ‘Get involved and stop this shit,'” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., SC), one of the main sponsors. “’And if you don’t take responsibility for what’s on your platform, then Section 230 won’t be there for you.’ And it will never end until we change the game, and this bill changes the game.”

The bill is heading to the Senate, where opponents, including internet giants, with the help of some privacy and human rights advocates, aim to stop the measure or slow it down. its progress while alternatives are considered.

In a letter to lawmakers this week, a coalition of industry groups that also includes Inc.

and Twitter Inc.

in their ranks say the legislation would “subject companies to litigation under an unpredictable patchwork of state laws.”

Section 230, passed in 1996, generally exempts Internet platforms from liability for third-party content posted on their sites. He has been credited with playing a crucial role in spurring the development of internet platforms by protecting them from lawsuits that could have stifled their growth.

The new measure would create an exception to the Immunity Act 1996 for child pornography material. Under the bill, a platform could become liable for such material, typically in situations where the platform is notified that it is hosting the material and does nothing about it, the sponsors said.

Lawmakers said the bill seeks to address what Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) called “a growing problem of child sexual abuse on the Internet.”

Opposing the bill, tech groups said it could undermine platforms’ use of encryption technologies, encouraging them to weaken encryption to better monitor their sites and comply with the new legal standard. The sponsors of the bill dismissed this concern.

The bill is also opposed by a coalition including more than 60 privacy and human rights groups. In a letter to lawmakers, these groups said passage of the Earn It Act could lead platforms to “engage in overbroad censorship of online speech, especially content created by diverse communities, including people LGBTQ”.

The bill’s name is an acronym for Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies. Several lawmakers said they hoped the measure was the start of a broader review of the immunity law.

“This approach is very narrowly focused,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Connecticut). “But hopefully we’ll look at Section 230 as a whole,” adding that it’s “arguably a very unnecessary immunity that we’re giving to Big Tech.”

Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Meta Platforms Inc. as Meta Inc. (Corrected February 10)

Write to John D. McKinnon at [email protected]

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