Debate Over Child Protection Intensifies at Tense Hearing

( — A coalition of human rights groups and tech advocates is raising the alarm about a bipartisan Senate bill to protect children online, arguing that the measure could restrict children and teens from critical information, The Hill reported.

Tech executives testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee for nearly four hours on January 31 in what was at times a tense hearing as lawmakers considered the bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), co-sponsored by Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

The bill would require social media platforms to limit the type of content that could be viewed by minors while granting the FTC and state attorneys general the power to enforce the regulations.

The measure would also require social media companies to allow parents to control their children’s online privacy settings and restrict certain features, like digital purchases, algorithmic recommendations, and auto-play videos.

Internet safety advocates support the legislation as a way to prevent children from being exposed to harmful content. However, some tech advocacy groups warn that the Kids Online Safety Act could also limit a minor’s access to information about gender identity and abortion.

Policy analyst Aliya Bhatia with the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Free Expression Project told The Hill that the bill would harm “marginalized teens” including “LGBTQ teens” and “teens of color.”

The Center for Democracy and Technology, along with other advocacy groups, fear that the “duty of care” provision in the bill is too broadly defined, leaving the language open to interpretation.

Bhatia told The Hill that the bill would allow each of the 50 state attorneys general to come up with a different interpretation, some of which could include limiting children’s access to anything that does not assert that gender is binary or preventing children from accessing information about “reproductive health care.”

Haley Hinkle from the online child advocacy group Fairplay dismissed the concerns, explaining that the bill would only regulate the content online platforms could promote and not what a child could search for.

In a press conference before the January 31 hearing, Senator Blumenthal told reporters that lawmakers were continuing to speak with a “variety of stakeholders” about the provisions in the legislation and said the bill was being amended to address “very legitimate points” that have been raised.

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