Internet Fragmentation > EARN IT Act

Our Kids Are Safer with Encryption

Region: North America
Threat type: Blocking Security Technologies
Last updated: 1 December 2023

Encryption helps to ensure national security and the safety of our infrastructure. EARN IT is a direct threat to that.

Encryption helps us stay safe both online and offline. It helps governments, national infrastructure, financial, and defense systems maintain their integrity and security. However, more and more governments are introducing legislation that could undo years of developments in such security technologies, often framed as a strategy for keeping children safe online.

One of these risks to encryption comes from the EARN IT Act, which was introduced to the United States Congress in 2020. Its aim was to change Section 230 of Title 47 of the US code that originally protected Internet platforms from being held liable for user-generated content shared on them, i.e. intermediary liability protection.

The EARN It Act would force these platforms to monitor user content, with legal risks if they do not. This act would make it difficult for companies to truly offer end-to-end encryption, and instead, would encourage them to develop backdoors to encrypted content. In addition, the EARN IT Act would allow a court to see the offering of encrypted services as evidence of complicity in child exploitation.

Many popular platforms already offer end-to-end encryption, and they would be forced to choose between complying with the EARN IT Act—which would undermine security for their users and their service—or leave the US market altogether.

Some of these mass-market services announced that if they were put in this position, they would choose to stop offering their service to US users.  It’s possible that even more services would stop operating in the US, and even geo-block US users from accessing them.

The result for US users is not just less consumer choice. For members of marginalized communities, less access to secure and private communications could lead to self-censorship or potentially dangers of physical violence. Undermining encryption also makes people and businesses more vulnerable to criminal activity, including the kids the sponsors of the Act say they want to protect.

It would also weaken the security of the Internet’s infrastructure, which could jeopardize national security, along with every sector of the US economy that relies on a strong, secure Internet.

These less secure services are easier for bad actors to exploit. However, encryption technology is still available outside of these services. So even a nefarious person or group could still encrypt their communications—but in no way does it stop them from causing harm.

Just like seatbelts save lives, encryption does such a good job of keeping us safe that it is easy to take it for granted. It is difficult to appreciate the value of encryption because when something bad does not happen, it does not make news. It is impossible to know how many children have been protected by encryption.

The authorities in the US want to find ways to curb child exploitation, but this Act actually weakens some of the tools to protect children. EARN IT puts us all at risk, and takes away some of our ability to protect our own kids.


The EARN IT Act was introduced to US Congress in 2020 but failed to pass before the end of the 116th Congress. It was reintroduced in the 117th Congress in 2022 where it also did not pass. A largely unchanged EARN IT Act was reintroduced in 2023 and has over twenty co-sponsors in the Senate.

Our Position

The EARN IT Act threatens security, privacy and confidentiality online. The Internet Society conducted an Internet Impact Brief, where we demonstrated that not only does the EARN IT Act threaten security, privacy, and confidentiality online, it also poses an existential threat to the Internet. It prevents providers from using end-to-end encryption, which also creates risks for Internet infrastructure providers, even if they don’t directly provide encrypted services. The effect of this act would undermine what the Internet needs to thrive as an open, global, secure, and trustworthy resource for everyone.

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Talking Points

  • Encryption is one of the most important tools for everyone—especially children—to stay safe online. We use encryption in our day to day lives without even realizing it–while sending email, shopping online, or making online transactions. Nobody should take away this technology from us.
  • The paradox of encryption is that ‘prevented harms’ do not make news. It’s impossible to count the number of children who are protected every day, thanks to encrypted services.
  • If companies are forced to choose between offering end-to-end encryption or leaving the US market, a number of them have already said that they will leave the market. This would leave Americans with less secure services, fewer choices, and fewer ways to stay connected globally.
  • Undermining encryption would leave the Internet less secure, along with businesses and people who rely on it. It would make the Internet less reliable and less safe to do business online, and that would damage the US economy.