It really is stunning
how rarely it appears that politicians who introduce bills "for the children" think through the obvious consequences of those bills. For years, we've discussed how COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, has had massive unintended consequences
, mainly cutting off lots of useful sites from any kids under the age of 13. It's also led to parents encouraging their kids to lie about their age, when they realize that all their friends are on sites like Facebook. Also, many people point out that COPPA is really an attack on kid's free speech rights. California has passed its own Online Privacy Protection Act that goes a bit further, but apparently, at least one California politician wants to take things even further, and is doing so with a plan that seems incredibly poorly thought out.
California Assemblywoman Nora Campos proposed a bill a few weeks ago, AB 319, that would expand things so much that any sites that collect any information about anyone under the age of 18
would be required under law
to reveal that personal information to parents
Now, think about that for a second. Since this is for any kids up to 18, we're talking about most of the teenage years for most kids. These are the years in which many teens rebel against their parents, which is, in many ways, a natural part of growing up and becoming an independent adult. To think that parents should be able to find out information directly from various sites about their kids' use of those sites seems incredibly problematic. There may be sites where the teens have tried to keep information private from their parents. And maybe that's because, say, the parents are anti-gay, and the child is gay. Do we really want parents to have easy access to that material? Or... what if it's a site for abused kids, and they are signing up to get help and to report that abuse? Under this law, it would appear that parents can check up on their kids on those sites.
What this bill would mean is that, in California, minors can get an abortion without parental notification, but they can't use Facebook. Also, under California law, teenagers may be emancipated
as of age 14. But their parents can still spy on their online activities?
Oh yeah, and the parents can order those sites to no longer allow their children to use
the sites any more. For troubled kids, seeking to connect with others who can help them at the point when they're struggling the most with their parents, it would seem like a situation that could have disastrous consequences.
An operator shall provide to a parent whose minor dependent
has provided personal information to an Internet Web site or online
service, upon request of the parent and proper identification, a
description of the specific types of personal information collected
from the minor by the operator, the opportunity at any time to
refuse to permit the operator’s further use or maintenance in
retrievable form, or future online collection, of personal
information from the minor, and a means that is reasonable under
the circumstances for the parent to obtain personal information
collected from the minor.
I'm sure Campos is thinking that this is one of those "protect the children" bills that makes for nice headlines. But shouldn't someone actually think about the actual impact of these bills before they get introduced?