May 24, 2023, WASHINGTON, D.C. – International Justice Mission (IJM) welcomes the reintroduction and committee passage of the EARN IT Act (S. 1207). The EARN IT (Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies) Act is a bipartisan bill that aims to combat the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC). The bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate on April 19, 2023, by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 4. A version of the EARN IT Act was also introduced in the House of Representatives (H.R. 2732) on April 19 by Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-TX).
The EARN IT Act amends the existing statute that governs online service providers to clarify that legal violations related to OSEC are not intended to be afforded protection under the law. The bill will also provide additional recourse and tools for survivors and update the statutory term for images and video created through online exploitation from “child pornography” to “child sex abuse material” (CSAM), which more accurately reflects the traumatic nature of this crime.
As an organization that has been fighting against human rights abuses for more than 25 years, IJM has long advocated for stronger laws and policies to protect children from violence. IJM believes that this legislation is a significant step toward protecting children online. In the Philippines, in partnership with the Philippine Government and foreign law enforcement, IJM has supported the safeguarding of over 1,100 children victimized by, or at serious risk of, trafficking into online sexual exploitation. In most cases, local traffickers broadcast—through live streaming video or the production of new child sexual exploitation materials— the sexual abuse and exploitation of victims to foreign sex offenders. In a 2020 IJM study conducted with the Philippine Government under the U.S. - Philippines Child Protection Compact (CPC) Partnership, 51% of victims identified were 12 years old or younger at the time of law enforcement intervention.
"Technology has revolutionized our world, and it has also created new opportunities for criminals to exploit vulnerable children," said Nate King, Director of Congressional Affairs at IJM. "The EARN IT Act will ensure that technology companies are doing everything in their power to prevent child sexual exploitation on their platforms. We commend the Senate Judiciary Committee for advancing this legislation and urge Senate leadership to schedule a vote on the bill this year."
The EARN IT Act will also enhance reporting and preservation requirements for technology companies to the CyberTipline, which is operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). According to NCMEC, the CyberTipline receives an average of 80,000 daily reports of online exploitation of children. In 2022, 89.3% of all CyberTipline reports were linked to potential offenders outside the U.S. and referred to law enforcement agencies in more than 140 countries. From IJM’s experience in training international law enforcement partners on CyberTipline investigations, it is clear that updates are desperately needed to the existing reporting framework. IJM supports the enhanced reporting requirements in the EARN IT Act that will improve consistency, quality and timeliness in reports of suspected OSEC sent from online service providers to the CyberTipline.
"Online sexual exploitation of children is a global pandemic and we need a global response to combat it," said John Tanagho, Executive Director of IJM’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children. "As an international leader, the United States has a responsibility to stand up for child protection at home and abroad. While the EARN IT Act would affect U.S.-based companies, vulnerable children around the world would benefit from the protective measures of this legislation. We applaud the bill's sponsors and co-sponsors and urge Congress to pass this important legislation."
With support from both sides of the aisle and from a broad coalition of organizations, including IJM, the EARN IT Act awaits the consideration of the full Senate. The Senate bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), John Kennedy (R-LA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John Cornyn (R-TX), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Mark Warner (D-VA), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Pete Ricketts (R-NE), and Bob Casey (D-PA).
For more information about IJM’s work combatting OSEC, visit ijm.org.ph/center.