US moralist institutions, including the government, have found that a great way to censor people is to control their financial access.
The best example is Operation Chokepoint , a Department of Justice (DOJ) effort that put pressure on the
banking system to cut off financial access for politically disfavored industries, such as sex work or porn production.
Under the Obama administration, regulators such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Office of the Comptroller
of the Currency (OCC) issued threatening letters to financial institutions that processed payments for industries such as payday lenders, gun and ammunition firms, and cryptocurrency companies. The message was clear: cut back on business with these
industries, or else. Banks got the hint, and affected firms found it harder and harder to find banking partners.
Bullying banks into doing the government's dirty work was a quick and easy way to get the job done. Even better: it was an extralegal
method to get rid of businesses the feds didn't like too much anyway. But of course, if something works, then why not extend it to ever more pet peeves.
For example, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed his Department of Financial Services to issue
Operation Chokepoint-style warning letters to financial institutions which provided services to the National Rifle Association. Climate change activists have turned similar tactics towards banks who process payments for oil and gas companies .
help may now be coming from some unexpected quarters: the OCC, which less than a decade ago had led the charge with Operation Chokepoint. Under the leadership of acting director Brian Brooks, the OCC has proposed a rule change that would make
government-supported financial suppression much harder legally.
The Dodd-Frank Act was a sweeping financial reform that, among many other things , authorized the OCC to ensure that nationally chartered banks provide fair access to financial
services, and fair treatment of customers. The intention was that minority customers be evaluated for creditworthiness on her or her own individual merits rather than the attributes of their broader group. In other words, a creditworthy individual
shouldn't be punished because they belong to some group that is considered high risk in the aggregate.
The OCC would like to apply this thinking to industries through the proposed Fair Access to Financial Services rule. The largest banks in the
country--those with more than $100 billion in assets--would be prohibited from red-lining politically disfavored industries just as they are prohibited from red-lining politically oppressed populations. Rather, a gun manufacturer or pornography company
or payday lender must be evaluated on the terms of their individual creditworthiness.
The rule does not require that all large banks must do business with all, say, fossil fuel companies, just like banks are not required to extend credit to every
single member of a protected class who applies for a loan. Rather, it is a nondiscrimination requirement. Large banks will not be allowed to cut off financial access for disfavored industries just because the government or some other powerful group leans
on them to do so.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the 30-year-old advocacy group that has been a pioneer in defending digital civil liberties, sent a letter this week to the United States Senate, opposing the controversial EARN IT Act -- which the EFF says will
result in online censorship that will disproportionately impact marginalized communities, will jeopardize access to encrypted services, and will place at risk the prosecutions of the very abusers the law is meant to catch.
Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2020, or EARN IT, is designed to roll back protections for online platforms under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Section 230 is widely considered the First
Amendment of the Internet. As AVN reported last month, the law is not only the backbone of open online communications, but for adult content online as well.
Efforts to roll back Section 230 protection will have a significant
adverse impact on the adult entertainment industry if passed, First Amendment attorney Lawrence Walters told AVN in August. Any change to Section 230 could result in restrictive content moderation rules or elimination of the platforms themselves.
Platforms would be required to earn the protections currently afforded by Section 230 by following a set of vaguely defined best practices to prevent illegal activities, specifically sex trafficking and Child Sex Abuse Material
(CSAM), if EARN IT passes.
Under EARN IT, states will be free to impose any liability standard they please on platforms, including holding platforms liable for CSAM they did not actually know was present on their services, EFF
warned in its letter to the Senate. Nothing in the bill would prevent a state from passing a law in the future holding a provider criminally responsible under a 'reckless' or 'negligence' standard.
In other words, under EARN IT,
state governments could punish online platforms for almost anything that could be broadly interpreted as CSAM or Sex trafficking, even bringing criminal charges against site operators. The dangers for the adult industry are clear if states are allowed to
define a wide range of sexual content as promoting sex trafficking.
But sex worker advocacy groups have also warned that the EARN IT law could lead to increased surveillance of workers in the sex industry. EFF also addresses the
surveillance threat in its letter to the Senate.
End-to-end encryption ensures the privacy and security of sensitive communications such that only the sender and receiver can view them, the group wrote. But the EARN IT Act
threatens to undermine and disincentivize providers from providing strong encryption.
The EFF compares EARN IT to a previous sex trafficking law, FOSTA/SESTA, which is the only law so far passed that actually curtails Section 230
protections, in cases when sites are deemed to promote online sex trafficking. But that law had the opposite effect from its stated intention.
Instead, it has forced sex workers, whether voluntarily engaging in sex work or forced
into sex trafficking against their wills, offline and into harm's way, EFF wrote. It has also chilled their online expression generally, including the sharing of health and safety information, and speech wholly unrelated to sex work.
In the letter, EFF urges the Senate not to fast track the EARN IT bill -- and to vote it down if or when it finally comes before the entire Senate. The bill passed through the Judiciary Commitee in July.
Senators Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal are quietly circulating a serious threat to your free speech and security online. Their proposal would give the Attorney General the power to unilaterally write new rules for how online platforms and
services must operate in order to rely on Section 230, the most important law protecting free speech online. The AG could use this power to force tech companies to undermine our secure and private communications.
We must stop this
dangerous proposal before it sees the light of day. Please tell your members of Congress to reject the so-called EARN IT Act.
The Graham-Blumenthal bill would establish a National Commission on Online Child
Exploitation Prevention tasked with recommending best practices for providers of interactive computer services regarding the prevention of online child exploitation conduct. But the Attorney General would have the power to override the Commission's
recommendations unilaterally. Internet platforms or services that failed to meet the AG's demands could be on the hook for millions of dollars in liability.
It's easy to predict how Attorney General William Barr would use that
power: to break encryption. He's said over and over that he thinks the best practice is to weaken secure messaging systems to give law enforcement access to our private conversations. The Graham-Blumenthal bill would finally give Barr the power to demand
that tech companies obey him or face overwhelming liability from lawsuits based on their users' activities. Such a demand would put encryption providers like WhatsApp and Signal in an awful conundrum: either face the possibility of losing everything in a
single lawsuit or knowingly undermine their own users' security, making all of us more vulnerable to criminals. The law should not pit core values--Internet users' security and expression--against one another.
Graham-Blumenthal bill is anti-speech, anti-security, and anti-innovation. Congress must reject it.
Woody Allen's memoir, Apropos of Nothing, was acquired last week by the publisher Hachette in the US.
The move was quickly condemned by the author's daughter Dylan Farrow, who has alleged that Allen sexually abused her as a child, allegations that
Allen has denied. These allegations have twice been investigated by the authorities but have not led to arrest, charge or prosecution.
Allen's son Ronan Farrow, whose book Catch and Kill --also published by Hachette -- details his investigations
into institutional sexual abuse in the media and Hollywood, also blasted the decision and announced he would no longer work with Hachette.
The Hachette censorship was initiated by Hachette staff in the US who staged a walkout at its New York
offices over the memoir. The publisher then pulled the book, claming that the decision was a difficult one.
Woody Allen's memoir will still be published in France despite its US publisher dropping it, with his French publisher saying that the film
director is not Roman Polanski and that the American situation is not ours.
Offsite Comment: This is the behaviour of censors, not publishers
I do not want to read books that are good for me or that are written by people whose views I always agree with or admire. I am always afraid when a mob, however small and well read, exercises power without any accountability, process
or redress. That frightens me much more than the prospect of Woody Allen's autobiography hitting the bookstores.