For years, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has advocated for common sense legislation to protect children online. Finally, momentum is growing for meaningful federal legislation.
On July 27, the US Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved two bills NCOSE supports enthusiastically: the Kids Online Safety Act (S. 3663) and Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (S. 1628).
The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) mandates more accountability from digital platforms and app developers. It says: #BigTech must design these products intentionally, prioritizing child health and safety. It creates a “duty of care” that corporate interests will have to respect regarding its young users. “Duty of care” is a meaningful legal concept. Hotels, for example, have a “duty of care” for guests, which is why hotels maintain locks, check-in desks, and security cameras.
KOSA also requires parental control tools to be more accessible, bars interactive platforms from giving adult strangers access to children, prevents random geo-location tools from tracking the whereabouts of children, and creates constructive transparency by facilitating access to relevant data for independent researchers.
And more…KOSA is the most comprehensive online child protection bill pending this year in Congress.
The other major bill gaining support is the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA 2.0, which builds on the original child privacy protection law passed in 1998.
Origin of these Bills
In May 2021, Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) convened a hearing on “Protecting Kids Online: Internet Privacy and Manipulative Marketing” before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, which he chairs.
Five months later, the same subcommittee reconvened to hear testimony from Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen. She confirmed the company knows its products (including Facebook and Instagram) create an unhealthy environment for youth, including the promotion of negative body image, self-harm, and eating disorders.
Senator Blumenthal called the revelations a “bombshell.” He continued, “It is powerful, gripping, riveting evidence that Facebook knows of the harmful effects of its site on children and that it has concealed those facts and findings.”
Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), ranking Republican on the consumer protection subcommittee, co-sponsored KOSA. It is a culmination of five hearings the subcommittee held about online child protection and inadequacies of the current system.
Online interactive platforms are saturated with bullying and harassment, suicidal ideation, and child sexual abuse material (CSAM, aka child pornography) without regulation. It is long overdue for Big Tech to be held accountable for the harm caused by their platforms.
The five crucial hearings on protecting kids online: