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Draft law could put encryption at risk, report says

The Earn It bill was drafted by Sen. Lindsey Graham to find better ways to protect children online, earlier reports say.

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Facebook and other social media sites could lose encryption protections under the legislation. 

Angela Lang/CNET

End-to-end encryption could be at risk if a new bill to protect children online becomes law. Sen. Lindsey Graham drafted the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2019, or Earn It. It could affect platforms that use encrypted messaging, such as Facebook's WhatsApp and Apple's iMessage.

The draft law would see formation of a National Commission on Online Child Exploitation and Prevention that would develop best practices for providers of an "interactive computer service," taking into account the size, product and business model of a company.

Companies would then have to coordinate with the commission to "preserve, remove from view and report material relating to child exploitation or child sexual abuse."

While social media platforms already have systems for finding and removing such material, they can't spot it in their messaging services that use encryption.

The draft legislation could therefore weaken legal protections for encrypted services, Bloomberg reported Thursday. This is because if a company doesn't abide by those best practices, it could lose some protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech giants from liability over users' posts, Bloomberg said.

The 19-page bill has yet to be introduced, according to the report, but it would require information from social media as well as cloud services, emails and text platforms to be accessed in lawsuits over child exploitation and abuse. 

Previously, Apple has been able to avoid opening up access to alleged criminals' phones. US President Donald Trump tweeted his criticism of the company's stance on Jan. 22, saying the tech giant has the "keys to so many criminals and criminal minds."