Cyber Safety on Capitol Hill

To Protect & To Serve” 

These words have graced the sides of law-enforcement vehicles in the United States for over half a century. They convey the overwhelming recognition that one of the main roles of law enforcement – and by extension, government – is the protection of its citizens. The “life, liberty, and property” mentioned in the United States Constitution guarantees the rights and safety of every citizen. 

In the past, the safety provided by the government was mostly physical. People threatened with crimes such as robbery, violent assault, and property damage could turn to the government for protection. More recently, however, the threats average citizens are faced with have begun to expand in scope. 

Online safety has become an increasingly important topic in the last 20 years and much of it has been centered around children. Parents are rightly concerned about their children being exposed to online toxicity such as cyberbullying, explicit material, and predatory behavior that can occur online. 

So, much like in the physical world, people are turning to government regulation and oversight to keep the online landscape safe for adults and children alike. We’ll take a look at recent legislation introduced on Capitol Hill with the goal of securing the internet for the future. 

Legislation for Cyber Safety

One piece of legislation designed to make the internet safer is The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which was signed into law in 2000 and then updated in 2011. CIPA imposed requirements on schools or libraries that receive discounts for Internet access or internal connections through the E-rate program – a program that makes certain communications services and products more affordable for eligible schools and libraries. These organizations had to prove that their internet-accessible computers had filters in place which blocked explicit or harmful content. 

While an important measure, CIPA does little to help secure the internet as a whole. Instead, it focuses solely on institutions like schools and libraries which receive Government funding and is relatively ineffective at dealing with today’s advanced threats. 

In the past few weeks, however, a bipartisan bill was introduced called The Eliminating Abuse and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act or EARN IT for short. This bill threatens technology companies like Facebook and Google with losing some of the protections they enjoy under a law called Section 230.

Essentially, Section 230 shields online platforms from being treated as the publisher of information they distribute from their users. This protects the platform from much of the liability over content found on their site.  

The EARN IT bill is designed to get tech companies to take drastic steps to regulate posted content to ensure that the platform does not become a haven for online toxicity, including child predators. EARN IT will hold platforms liable for content posted on their site if they do not subscribe to a new commission’s list of “best practices” for detecting online abuse. EARN IT places specific focus on abusive images and does little to address textual abuse. 

The bill is not without its critics. For example, it was slammed by tech companies and security experts alike for taking advantage of the presence of online abuse to have an excuse to deprive platforms of encryption and privacy. There remains much work to be done in this regard.  

What Will This Law Accomplish?

First of all, it is unclear whether EARN IT will ever be signed into law. In 2009, there were two similar pieces of legislation introduced on Capitol Hill called The Internet Safety Act and the Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth Act (or SAFETY) which also aimed to limit online exploitation. Neither bill was ever signed into law. But even if EARN IT does pass through the Senate and gets signed into law, it is still a limited solution to the general problem of online toxicity.

EARN IT only seeks to hold these platforms responsible for exploitive explicit media found on their platforms. It doesn’t attempt to address the many other issues surrounding online safety such as cyberbullying. In fact, there are no laws in place that address cyberbullying at all. 

Obviously direct threats of violence or harassment online are illegal and many states have amended their laws to include online threats and harassment to their current laws. But these laws do little to make sure that the online world is effectively monitored or that bad actors are being held accountable. 

Beyond Legislation

At L1ght, we believe in a better solution. Our proprietary AI algorithm can be integrated into major platforms, including at hosting or ISP level. Once there, it learns and mimics online behavior, working in real-time to prevent and report toxic activity. 

Legislation can only go so far to ensure a safe environment on the internet. L1ght was created to be the advanced technology solution that our web-centered generation needs. 

To find out more, reach out and schedule a demo