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.
The operator of Bella's Hacienda Ranch, a legal brothel in Nevada, has announced new procedures she will adopt once Governor Steve Sisolak gives the green light to reopen.
Madam Bella told AVN that her plan involves several key procedural changes,
including a plan to include COVID-19 testing as part of the weekly sex worker testing done at the bordello.
Madam Bella also will require customers to wear face coverings and everyone entering the establishment will be tested for elevated
temperatures. Hand washing and showers have always been a part of the business' cleanliness protocol, but Madam Bella will make showers prior to a session mandatory for additional precaution.
However the brothel will be somewhat scaled down with
only 8 ladies, about half the usual number.
In Nevada, which reported its first confirmed death from coronavirus infection on Monday, the country's only legal brothels have been ordered to close, along with strip clubs, casinos, restaurants, gyms and other public gathering places.
addition, sex workers who take private clients have reported widespread cancellations, according to a report by McClatchy News.
But the crisis has not been confined to sex workers in the U.S.. According to an Associated Press report, the world's
supposedly oldest profession is suffering a sudden slump. Over the past week, business has gone down by 50 percent, Berlin brothel operator Johannes Marx told the AP. Another Berlin sex worker told the AP that, 90 percent of all dates are being
canceled anyway. As always, we're left to fend for ourselves.
Sex workers in Australia report a similar economic crisis due to the pandemic, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. There's no stimulus package available. We
don't have sick pay, we don't have annual leave, one sex worker identified only as Anya told the network.
Chatbots posing as sex workers engaged 15,000 people in conversations between 2016 and 2018 in response to a fake advert triggered by a search for sex online.
During a two-year period, a moralist campaign group, Seattle Against Slavery posted fake
online adverts that connected people with chatbots that initially posed as sex workers, before delivering a deterrence message. The campaign, which also involved placing more than 2m Google adverts warning people of the risks of buying sex online, led to
a 50% decline in online searches for keywords such as teen escort.
Robert Beiser, former executive director at Seattle Against Slavery, who is presenting the findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Seattle on
Friday, said: In a fairly short length of time we were able to reach hundreds of thousands of people who had searched for common terms. In Seattle, we were able to impact the marketplace pretty dramatically.
Between 2016 and 2018 the organisation also
began to post fake ads apparently offering sex that would appear in response to keyword searches. These would contain a mobile number to text, which would trigger a chatbot designed to pose as a sex worker. Beiser said that developing the chatbot was
quite straightforward because the conversations were so repetitive. There were lots of 'Hello, where are you? What do you do? Where can I meet you?', he said. The chatbot would sometimes add a little bit more colour to the conversation.
Vermont State Representative Selene Colburn has repsonded to the plight of sex workers whose lives (and incomes) have suffered drastically by federal and state government attempts to help them through legislation like SESTA/FOSTA and local human
trafficking ordinances. She has introduced a bill that would decriminalize sex-for-pay between consenting adults, while at the same time making penalties worse for child sex traffickers.
Colburn's bill, H.B. 569, would completely repeal the state's
current prostitution law and replace it with a new law retaining only those sections involving minors or trafficking.
The bill, which has four co-sponsors and is currently being considered by the House Judiciary Committee, would, if passed, make
Vermont only the second state in the Union to have legalized adult sex work--but its proponents still have their work cut out for them. Assuming the bill survives the judiciary committee, it still has to be passed by both the full House and Senate, and
while Democrats and Progressives.