It’s kind of difficult to take “privacy advocates” seriously if they’re supportive of the EARN IT Act and its structure that would effectively enable the Attorney General to ban real encryption. That’s why it was so ridiculous that vocal privacy advocate non-profit EPIC (in the midst of a truly horrifying scandal in which its President exposed employees to COVID-19 without telling them) came out in favor of the EARN IT Act. As with so much that EPIC does, the issue was more that they saw EARN IT as “anti-big tech companies” and to hell with how it actually impacts privacy and encryption.
This is an ongoing problem. Many people who (whether for good reasons or not) dislike big internet companies seem way too willing to embrace bills that appear aimed against them as a sort of “stick it to them” attack, rather than recognizing the long term impact of those bills. We’ve seen that in the past with bills from the EU’s Copyright Directive, the GDPR, and the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), all of which some groups supported solely because it would “be bad” for Google, Facebook and other internet giants, without recognizing the wider impact.
Apparently we can add big news publishers to this list as well. While papers like the NY Times and the Washington Post have run a bunch of stories about how “big tech” is bad about privacy, it’s difficult to take them seriously when their lobbyists are out there lobbying in favor of a bill that would ban encryption. And yet, there is the News Media Alliance, formerly the Newspaper Association of America, cheerfully attacking Section 230 of the CDA (which, someone should remind them, all of their websites rely on…) at the DOJ’s hearing back in February. Because the EARN IT Act is structured in a way to try to play Section 230 and encryption off of one another, the News Media Alliance’s support of attacking 230 gives cover to the EARN IT Act’s effective chipping away at encryption.
And that should greatly concern all of the journalists who work for these newspapers, like the NY Times and the Washington Post among others. Reporters at those newspapers rely heavily on encryption as they cultivate sources. And the newspapers themselves rely strongly on Section 230 to protect them against bogus SLAPP suits, even as they pretend that Section 230 is a “special favor” for large tech companies.
The end result, as with EPIC, is that it seems that the focus on “big internet companies are the problem” means that they’re compromising on their own principles in order to “punish” the big internet companies. Suggesting Section 230 should be amended gives cover to the plan to trade Section 230 protections for undermining encryption — thereby undermining both. And that’s really dangerous, given that news reporters and news sites rely on both strong encryption and on Section 230.
The News Media Alliance is playing a dangerous game, while being blinded by its dislike of big internet companies.