March 5, 2021

Senator Wyden And Others Introduce Bill Calling The DOJ’s Bluff Regarding Its Attempt To Destroy Section 230 & Encryption

By Mike Masnick
One of the key points we’ve been making concerning Attorney General William Barr and his DOJ’s eager support for the terrible EARN-IT Act, is that much of it really seems to be to cover up the DOJ’s own failings in fighting child porn and child exploitation. The premise behind the EARN IT Act is that there’s a lot of child exploitation/child abuse material found on social media… and that social media companies should do more to block that content. Of course, if you step back and think about it, you’d quickly realize that this is a form of sweeping the problem under the rug. Rather than actually tracking down and arresting those exploiting and abusing children, it’s demanding private companies just hide the evidence of those horrific acts.

And why might the DOJ and others be so supportive of sweeping evidence under the rug and hiding it? Perhaps because the DOJ and Congress have literally failed to live up to their mandates under existing laws to actually fight child exploitation. Barr’s DOJ has been required under law to produce reports showing data about internet crimes against children, and come up with goals to fight those crimes. It has produced only two out of the six reports that were mandated over a decade ago. At the same time, Congress has only allocated a very small budget to state and local law enforcement for fighting internet child abuse. While the laws Congress passed say that Congress should give $60 million to local law enforcement, it has actually allocated only about half of that. Oh, and Homeland Security took nearly half of its “cybercrimes” budget and diverted it to immigration enforcement, rather than fighting internet crimes such as child exploitation.

So… maybe we should recognize that the problem isn’t social media platforms, but the fact that Congress and law enforcement — from local and state up to the DOJ — have literally failed to do their job.

At least some elected officials have decided to call the DOJ’s bluff on why we need the EARN IT Act. Led by Senator Ron Wyden (of course), Senators Kirsten Gillbrand, Bob Casey, Sherrod Brown and Rep. Anna Eshoo have introduced a new bill to actually fight child sex abuse online. Called the Invest in Child Safety Act, it would basically make law enforcement do its job regarding this stuff.

The Invest in Child Safety Act would direct $5 billion in mandatory funding to investigate and target the pedophiles and abusers who create and share child sexual abuse material online. And it would create a new White House office to coordinate efforts across federal agencies, after DOJ refused to comply with a 2008 law requiring coordination and reporting of those efforts. It also directs substantial new funding for community-based efforts to prevent children from becoming victims in the first place.

Basically, the bill would do a bunch of things to make sure that law enforcement is actually dealing with the very real problem of child exploitation, rather than demanding that internet companies (1) sweep evidence under the rug, and (2) break encryption:

Quadruple the number of prosecutors and agents in DOJ’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section from 30 FTEs to 120 FTEs;
Add 100 new agents and investigators for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Innocent Images National Initiative, Crimes Against Children Unit, Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Teams, and Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces;
Fund 65 new NCMEC analysts, engineers, and mental health counselors, as well as a major upgrade to NCMEC’s technology platform to enable the organization to more effectively evaluate and process CSAM reports from tech companies;
Double funding for the state Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces;
Double funding for the National Criminal Justice Training Center, to administer crucial Internet Crimes Against Children and Missing and Exploited Children training programs;
Increase funding for evidence-based programs, local governments and non-federal entities to detect, prevent and support victims of child sexual abuse, including school-based mental health services and prevention programs like the Children’s Advocacy Centers and the HHS’ Street Outreach Program;
Require tech companies to increase the time that they hold evidence of CSAM, in a secure database, to enable law enforcement agencies to prosecute older cases;
Establish an Office to Enforce and Protect Against Child Sexual Exploitation, within the Executive Office of the President, to direct and streamline the federal government’s efforts to prevent, investigate and prosecute the scourge of child exploitation;
Require the Office to develop an enforcement and protection strategy, in coordination with HHS and GAO; and
Require the Office to submit annual monitoring reports, subject to mandatory Congressional testimony to ensure timely execution.

While I always have concerns about law enforcement mission creep and misguided targeting of law enforcement efforts, hopefully everyone can agree that child exploitation does remain a very real problem, and one that law enforcement should be investigating and going after those who are actually exploiting and abusing children. This bill would make that possible, rather than the alternative approach of just blaming the internet companies for law enforcement’s failure to take any of this seriously.