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‘Time Has Come’

Durbin Seeks Schumer’s Support for Kids’ Safety Package

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is seeking potential options with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to bring a package of children’s online safety bills to the Senate floor, he told us last week.

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Senators told us a package of legislation has a better chance of getting floor time than a single bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed by voice vote several kids’ safety bills in recent weeks (see 2305110048 and 2305040062). That includes the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (Earn It Act) and the Strengthening Transparency and Obligation to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment (Stop CSAM) Act (S-1199). Another bill with bipartisan support is the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) (S-3663), which the Senate Commerce Committee passed unanimously in July and was reintroduced earlier this month (see 2305020053).

The Earn It Act, the Stop CSAM Act and KOSA would be a good combination of bills because they’re the most “prominent,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., but he’s in favor of any package of bills that “fit together.” Schumer won’t want to sacrifice floor time for some “little bill,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Durbin said he was hoping to sit down with Schumer last week. Schumer’s office didn’t comment Wednesday. Schumer made a formal announcement last week about the need to pass comprehensive legislation for artificial intelligence regulation, after he met with a bipartisan group of senators on the topic.

Durbin told us the recent flurry of bills passing Senate Judiciary is a “good indication that the time has come” to address kids' online safety. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory Tuesday, saying the federal government doesn’t have “enough evidence” to say social media is “sufficiently safe” for children and adolescents (see 2305230062).

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent legislative momentum means the bills have broad committee support, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the Senate will support them in a way that would allow for floor time, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Legislators need to be careful about adding bills that could hold up the entire package, he said. None of the bills is ready for the floor “as is,” but most of the textual issues are “solvable,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

I think there’s a lot of interest in kids’ safety, and we’ll see where there’s the broadest consensus,” said Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told us he remains concerned about the unintended consequences of the bills: “I’m very concerned that as written, kids will be less safe than they are today, particularly because of the changes in encryption.”

The intent is good,” and it’s good to “shine a light” on this issue, but the better solution is to ensure law enforcement and prosecutors are better equipped for handling child exploitation cases, said NetChoice Vice President Carl Szabo. “We do not have a reporting problem,” he said, noting platforms flag millions of pieces of CSAM every month. “We have a law enforcement problem. And until we start getting these criminals off the streets and behind bars, these problems will continue.” Wyden has repeatedly pushed for better prosecutorial and law enforcement resources (see 2005060015).

Industry innovations have helped identify these crimes, resulting in 29 million reports in 2021 alone, but unfortunately only a small percentage of official reports lead to prosecutions,” said Computer & Communications Industry Association President Matt Schruers in a statement. “Instead of addressing this gap, this bill threatens encryption and chips away at the statutory framework that enables companies to remove this dangerous content online without ensuring more prosecutions of bad actors.”