from the this-is-a-really-bad-bill dept
I do not understand the Democratic Party in the US for a wide variety of reasons. But one of the most confusing thing about them is their priorities. With everything else going on in the world that needs serious attention from Congress right now, Senate Dems have decided to host a markup on one of the worst, most ridiculous bills they’ve come up with in a long, long time: the “Kids Online Safety Act.”
I wrote about just how terrible a bill this is back when it was introduced in February by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn — two Senators who have a long and well documented history of hating on the internet and wishing to basically destroy it.
The bill is very much the typical “but think of the children!” kind of legislation that (I’m sure, coincidentally) always becomes popular right around election season. As we explained at the time, the bill assumes a lot of completely unproven things about how much “harm” the internet does to kids, and decides that companies need to magically stop the bad stuff. It ignores that companies put tons of efforts into stopping bad stuff on their platforms but (1) it’s a much more difficult problem than people realize and part of the reason it’s so difficult is that (2) trying to silence kids talking about certain topics has a long history of absolutely backfiring and making problems worse. We’ve seen that with actual data regarding things like eating disorders and suicide.
Forcing websites to take down such content, without addressing the underlying reasons why kids are seeking out such information does not help. Even worse, the mechanisms in this bill would basically just mean constant, unending, intrusive surveillance of every kid online. That’s awful.
This is not to say that people should let kids roam the internet willy nilly, but it is important to actually teach them how to handle the internet in an age appropriate way. Spying on kids at all times teaches kids the exact wrong lesson. It normalizes constant surveillance and privacy invasions and also never lets kids really learn for themselves and take responsibility.
Especially given the recent concerns over abortion data and access to abortion information, Democrats should be running away from this bill rather than supporting it. As policy expert Josh Lamel notes, if the Kids Online Safety Act becomes law, a Republican FTC or state Attorney General could force websites to block teen access to any abortion information.
KOSA will allow a Republican FTC or Republican State AG to force Internet platforms to block teen access to any abortion access or information that is not “pro-life” community approved. It has two provisions that can be used for this. First, “harmful content” and second, content and services “unlawful for minors”. A republican FTC will almost definitely use this as a cudgel on abortion issues. So will Republican State AGs.
KOSA will allow a Republican AG to file a federal court action to prevent access to information at all about sex online under the “harmful content” provision. This includes contraception info, STD info & so much more. Do you trust this fed. judiciary w/that?
He goes on to note that the bill could be used to enable parents to spy on their kids, and even to find out if their kids are purchasing contraception online. It’s a privacy nightmare at a time when we need more privacy, not less.
So, why the hell is Senator Maria Cantwell moving this bill forward? It’s not just preposterous, but it’s downright dangerous.
Bizarrely, by the way, the very same markup will review the Children and Teens Online Privacy Protection Act, which is supposed to extend privacy protections aimed at protecting children 12 and under to those 16 and under. But if the Kids Online Safety Act becomes law, kids will have no privacy at all.