Signal warns that an anti-encryption bill circulating in Congress could force the private messaging app to withdraw from the U.S. market.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the free application, which offers end-to-end encryption, has seen an increase in traffic. But on Wednesday, the nonprofit organization behind the app posted a blog post, sounding the alarm around the EARN IT law. “At a time when more people than ever are enjoying these (encryption) protections, the EARN IT bill proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee threatens to endanger them,” wrote Signal developer Joshua Lund, in the ticket.
While the goal of the legislation, which has bipartisan support, is to eliminate the exploitation of children online, it does so by letting the United States government regulate how Internet companies should tackle the problem, even if it means undermining end-to-end encryption protecting your messages from snoops.
Failure to do so could result in loss of legal immunity under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which can protect them from prosecution for objectionable or illegal content posted on their websites or applications.
“Some big tech giants could hypothetically bear the enormous financial burden of handling hundreds of new lawsuits if they suddenly became responsible for the random words of their users, but it would not be possible for a small nonprofit like Signal to continue operating in the United States. States, “Lund wrote in the blog.
The reason Signal is concerned that the bill will undermine end-to-end encryption is because it gives US Attorney General William Barr – a major encryption critic – the power to dictate how Internet companies fight exploitation. kids online. In recent months, Barr has called on Facebook to cancel a plan to extend end-to-end encryption to all of its services, saying that technology is preventing law enforcement from tracking down criminals, including sex offenders .
“Companies should not deliberately design their systems to prevent any form of access to content, even to prevent or investigate the most serious crimes,” Barr wrote to Facebook in October. “It puts our citizens and our societies at risk by seriously eroding a company’s ability to detect and respond to illegal content and activities, such as sexual exploitation and abuse of children, terrorism.”
However, Signal says efforts to undermine end-to-end encryption may harm innocent users more than actual criminals, who will simply choose other means of masking their online activities. “If easy-to-use software like Signal becomes somehow inaccessible, the security of millions of Americans (including elected officials and members of the military) will be affected,” added Lund. “Meanwhile, criminals would simply continue to use widely available (but less practical) software to jump through the hoops and continue to have encrypted conversations.
The EARN IT law opposed privacy advocates and technology lobby groups, but received support from six US Democratic senators and four Republican senators. “Our goal is to do it in a balanced way that doesn’t hinder innovation too much, but forcibly deals with the exploitation of children,” said US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) last month. ) by announcing the legislation.
“Simply put, tech companies need to do better,” added Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut). “Tech companies have extraordinary special protection against legal liability, but this unique protection comes with responsibility.”
But other lawmakers say they are against the bill, citing its potential for abuse. “This terrible legislation is a Trojan horse that gives Attorney General Barr and Donald Trump the power to control online speech and demand that the government have access to all aspects of American life,” said the last month Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).