WASHINGTON D.C.  Today, Attorney General Bill Barr renewed calls he made in a speech last July to require online communications services to build a backdoor for law enforcement to access their services. But this time, in a speech before an invite-only workshop convened by the Department of Justice, Barr was much more strident, blaming Section 230 for allowing Internet services to use “strong” end-to-end encryption, and thus facilitating the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM), in particular. 

Bill Barr has declared all-out war on online privacy,” said Berin Szóka, President of TechFreedom. “He demonized tech companies for offering secure encryption to their users, as if they were doing so only to spite law enforcement. But the truth is: There’s no such thing as a backdoor that can only be accessed by the good guys. Telling tech companies to ‘just nerd harder’ won’t change the cold, hard facts of cryptography: forcing companies to maintain access to user communications necessarily makes their communications vulnerable to attack by foreign governments and ordinary criminals.”

Section 230 has never protected tech companies from criminal prosecution,” continued Szóka. “But that doesn’t stop populists across the political spectrum from blaming the law for all the Internet’s ills. Barr is simply exploiting this discontent to push a radical attack on online privacy that, really, has nothing to do with Section 230. That law made today’s Internet possible and continuing to whittle away at it will harm small services most, not Big Tech.”

Barr blames technology, but the real problem is that Congress has spent only half the money it promised to combat CSAM back in 2008,” concluded Szóka. “If the Trump administration were sincere about wanting to stamp out CSAM, they would stop diverting badly needed funding to Trump’s obsessive war against the largely imaginary problem of illegal immigration while the very real problem of child exploitation goes unaddressed for sheer lack of attention.” Without referencing the bill specifically, Barr’s complaints about Section 230 and a lack of civil redress hinted at legislation drafted by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal, the “Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2019” — the “EARN IT Act of 2019.” For a detailed analysis of a version of that bill that leaked two weeks ago, read Szóka’s Techdirt post.


We can be reached for comment at media@techfreedom.org. See more of our work on free speech and Section 230, including:

  • A coalition letter by 27 civil society organizations and 53 academics a set of seven principles to guide conversation about amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996
  • Our statement on Sen. Hawley’s proposed legislation on regulating the Internet
  • Our op-ed “Some conservatives need a First Amendment refresher”
  • Our letter to AG Sessions “DOJ Inquiry re Tech Companies Bias is Misguided”
  • Our blogpost “Reality Check for Trump and Republicans Crying ‘Bias’”!
  • President Berin Szóka’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the filtering practices of social media platforms
  • Our statement on the passage of SESTA
  • Our statement on the takedown of Backpage and its implications for Section 230 and recent sex trafficking legislation
  • Tech Policy Podcast #251: SESTA/FOSTA Hurts Victims It Aims to Protect