The bills, the Children’s Online Safety Act (KOSA) and COPPA 2.0, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by unanimous vote Thursday. Both laws are intended addressing an ongoing mental health crisis among young people that some lawmakers blame social media for intensifying. But critics of the bills have long argued that they have the potential to do more harm than good, such as forcing social media platforms to collect more information from users to properly enforce congressional rules.
In his past two State of the Union addresses, President Joe Biden has insisted that Congress enact stronger online privacy protections for children. Following the president’s lead in recent years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have introduced legislation to address his concerns. Obviously, the two bills passed Thursday have come out on top.
KOSA is supposed to set a new legal standard for the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general, allowing them to police companies that fail to prevent children from viewing harmful content on their platforms. The authors of the bills, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), have said the bill prevents children from viewing content that glorifies eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and gambling. It would also ban children under 13 from using social media and require companies to obtain parental consent before allowing children under 17 to use their platforms.
On Thursday’s markup, Blackburn proposed an amendment to remedy some of the concerns raised by digital rights groups, primarily language requiring platforms to verify the age of their users. Lawmakers approved those changes along with the bill, but the groups fear that the platforms still need to collect more data on all users to comply with the bill’s other rules.
“This is essentially nonsense”
“Essentially, this doesn’t make sense if the very nature of the bill requires online services to treat minors differently from adult users. Doing so would require online services to know the ages of their users, both adults and children,” said Aliya Bhatia, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology. in a blog post earlier this week.
Digital rights advocates have also suggested that KOSA could prevent LGBTQIA+ teens from finding the resources they may need online without speaking to their parents due to the bill’s parental consent requirements.
Atop Thursday’s markup, Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said the committee plans to “continue to work with” critics on those issues.
The other bill passed by lawmakers, COPPA 2.0, raises the age of protection under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act from 13 to 16 years of age, along with similar age restrictions. It also prohibits platforms from targeting ads to children.
Technology trade group NetChoice issued a scathing statement on the bills on Thursday.
“When it comes to determining the best way to help children and teens use the Internet, parents and guardians should be making those decisions, not the government,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice. “Instead of violating free speech rights and handing over parenting to bureaucrats, we should be empowering law enforcement with the resources to do their job of arresting and convicting bad guys who commit online crimes against children”.