“My mama always said, 'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.’” [i] This iconic quote from the 1994 Forrest Gump movie can be easily applied to today’s Internet.
January 1, 1983 is considered the official birthday of the Internet, but it actually “started in the 1960s as a way for government researchers to share information. Computers in the '60s were large and immobile and in order to make use of information stored in any one computer, one had to either travel to the site of the computer or have magnetic computer tapes sent through the conventional postal system.“[ii] “The Internet was the work of dozens of pioneering scientists, programmers and engineers who each developed new features and technologies that eventually merged to become the ‘information superhighway’ we know today.”[iii] Because of their efforts, we now carry in our smartphones what used to fill rooms.
Many experts predict “enormous potential for improved quality of life over the next 50 years for most individuals thanks to internet connectivity.”[iv] On the other hand, according to “…canvassings by Pew Research Center and Elon University Imagining the Internet Center,” other experts are “anxious about the way people’s online activities can undermine truth, foment distrust, jeopardize individuals’ well-being when it comes to physical and emotional health… compromise human agency as algorithms become embedded in more activities…[and]… kill privacy...”[v] The Internet really is like a box of chocolates.
Unfortunately, there are groups of people who insist on “messing with what goes into this box.” The purveyors of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) are one such group. Fortunately, efforts are under way to curb the more abusive practices of this group of misguided and greedy entrepreneurs. On April 19, 2023, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the Strengthening Transparency and Obligation to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act of 2023 (STOP CSAM Act), “legislation designed to crack down on the proliferation of child sex abuse material online. To combat this horrific crime, the STOP CSAM Act supports victims and increases accountability and transparency for online platforms.” [vi]
According to Senator Durbin, “the STOP CSAM Act is a comprehensive response to online child sexual exploitation, which continues to increase at an alarming rate. From March 2009 to February 2022, the number of victims identified in child sexual abuse material (CSAM) rose almost ten-fold, from 2,172 victims to over 21,413 victims. From 2012 to 2022, the volume of reports to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline concerning child sexual exploitation increased by a factor of 77 (415,650 reports to over 32 million reports). To combat this horrific crime, the legislation supports victims and increases accountability and transparency for online platforms.”[vii]
On the same day, April 19, 2023, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to encourage the tech industry to take online child sexual exploitation seriously. The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT Act) removes blanket immunity for violations of laws related to online child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The Earn It Act has 20 co-sponsors, including Senator Durbin. [viii]
“There are tens of millions of photos and videos circulating throughout the internet, showing the most heinous acts of sexual abuse and torture of children,” and the… “EARN IT Act removes Section 230 blanket liability protection from service providers in the area of child sexual abuse material on their sites… [t]he days of children being exploited on the internet and their families being unable to do anything about it are coming to an end.”[ix]
“The EARN IT Act imposes basic accountability on tech companies that are complicit in the sexual abuse and exploitation of children,” said Blumenthal. “The internet is infested with millions of images of children who have been brutally assaulted and exploited, and who are haunted by a lifetime of pain after these photographs and videos are circulated online. This problem is simply too big to throw money at – tech companies must take responsibility for eliminating child sexual abuse material on their own platforms or be held accountable.”[x] Earlier efforts to pass the EARN IT Act was the subject of a previous blog article on this website. [xi] See Insects, Worms, and Vermin (religiousalliance.org).
A related bill, H.R.2732 - EARN IT Act of 2023, was introduced on the same day in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO). The House version of the legislation is currently cosponsored by 12 members of the House. [xii]
These current legislative efforts follow the April 2018 enactment of what is known as the Fosta-Sesta legislation. When that legislation became law, Representative Wagner explained that “FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) … clarify the country's sex trafficking law to make it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking, and amend the Section 230 safe harbors of the Communications Decency Act (which make online services immune from civil liability for the actions of their users) to exclude enforcement of federal or state sex trafficking laws from its immunity…” [xiii]
People of faith appreciate these efforts made by these courageous members of Congress and encourage other Senators and Representatives to join with them. “This battle must be won.”[xiv]
[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forrest_Gump [ii] https://usg.edu/galileo/skills/unit07/internet07_02.phtml [iii] https://www.history.com/news/who-invented-the-internet [iv] https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2019/10/28/4-the-internet-will-continue-to-make-life-better/ted. [v] https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/07/03/shareable-quotes-from-experts-about-the-impact-of-digital-life/ [vi] https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/senate-bill/1199 [vii] https://www.durbin.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/STOP%20CSAM%20Act%20of%202023%20One%20Pager%20041723.pdf [viii] https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/senate-bill/1207/cosponsors [ix] https://www.lgraham.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2023/4/graham-blumenthal-reintroduce-earn-it-act [x] https://www.lgraham.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2023/4/graham-blumenthal-reintroduce-earn-it-act [xi] https://www.religiousalliance.org/post/insects-worms-and-vermin [xii] https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/house-bill/2732/cosponsors?s=1&r=190 [xiii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FOSTA-SESTA [xiv] https://www.religiousalliance.org/post/now-is-the-time-1