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Privacy a ‘Big Priority’

Senate Commerce Weighs Potential Markup for Kids Privacy

The Senate Commerce Committee is considering a potential markup for bipartisan children’s privacy legislation introduced last week (see 2202160055), Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., told us Thursday.

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Introduced by Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chairman Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and ranking member Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., the Kids Online Safety Act is in part a response to last year's testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and several subcommittee hearings.

There’s a couple other things in the queue, but we definitely want to make privacy a big priority,” Cantwell told us. “We’ll have to take a look at” the bill, but Commerce has been tracking the subcommittee activity.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., who have been active on the children’s privacy front, welcomed legislative efforts from Blumenthal and Blackburn. Markey noted collaboration with both sponsors on the issue (see 2111190061) and credited them for focusing the subcommittee’s hearings on the matter. “We have reached a crisis point on these issues, so we need an all-hands-on-deck approach,” he said in a statement. The legislation includes “important provisions like a duty of care for kids online," said Markey. He looks forward to continuing work with them and the Senate Commerce Committee to “enact strong, bipartisan legislation to protect children and teens’ privacy and safety this year.“

Big Tech’s approach is to “hook” children early and gather private data for the rest of their lives, despite known harms from their products, Castor said in a statement. Parents have “little control” over what their children access online, she said. Castor urged support for a bill from her and Markey, the Kids Internet Design and Safety Act, aimed at preventing manipulative marketing, harmful content and harmful design features. She also urged support for her Protecting the Information of our Vulnerable Children and Youth Act, which would update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Blumenthal and Blackburn's bill raises enforcement concerns, said Fight for the Future Director Evan Greer. Having state attorneys general enforce the bill’s requirements “seems like a terrible idea,” she said: There are “numerous openly bigoted” attorneys general who would likely “consider all LGBTQ content to be harmful to kids." Congress should pass policies that keep kids safe but also allow them to “thrive and express themselves, and grow up in a world with basic human rights and democracy,” she said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently passed three major pieces of legislation aimed at regulating Big Tech (see 2202030079, 2201200066 and 2202100071). The Earn It Act has gotten opposition from the major tech associations and consumer advocates alike, including Center for Democracy & Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge. CDT, EFF and PK said they’re still reviewing the Kids Online Safety Act. The bill was endorsed by Common Sense Media, the American Psychological Association and 5Rights Foundation.

The Earn It Act got fierce opposition from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and hesitation from Judiciary members, though the bill passed by voice vote. Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del.; Jon Ossoff, D-Ga.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; and Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the Earn It Act needs further tailoring before it's ready for the floor. Coons urged Congress to “proceed carefully,” saying, “Sometimes we don’t legislate particularly well.”