Sun. May 26th, 2024

House panel to debate privacy, kids’ safety bills

Samantha Parker By Samantha Parker May11,2024

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday on a series of tech safety bills aimed at boosting data privacy standards and child online safety.

Two of the long-awaited bills for discussion, a newly unveiled comprehensive data privacy bill and the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), will be in the spotlight and are likely to instigate debate around lingering concerns despite bipartisan support for the bills.

The hearing will be the first time lawmakers discuss the American Privacy Rights Act (APRA), a data privacy bill unveiled by Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) last week.

The bill’s preemption of state laws could emerge as a sticking point, especially among California Democrats, who have previously raised concerns about data privacy proposals that attempt to preempt privacy laws like one passed in their home state.

But supporters of comprehensive data privacy legislation will underscore the urgent need for new rules as lawmakers race to regulate the rapidly expanding artificial intelligence (AI) field, according to copies of witnesses written testimony.

“The APRA would prevent the ‘race to the bottom’ scenario by setting a baseline level of protection that states cannot undercut. This is critical as we face a future with even more reliance on data we create and leverage in new ways with the introduction of Generative AI,” said Katherine Kuehn, a director and CISO-in-Residence at the National Technology Security Coalition, in written testimony ahead of the hearing.

The hearing will also feature a discussion over a House version of the Kids Online Safety Act. Children’s online safety advocates have been pushing for a vote on the bill in the Senate after it advanced with bipartisan support in July, but some groups have continued to raise about the potential impact it will have on limiting teens in marginalized communities from online information. 

The hearing agenda includes eight other legislative proposals to be discussed, offering a range of regulations around kids’ safety and overall data privacy updates. But based on the written testimony from witnesses, APRA and KOSA are poised to be in the spotlight

“I promise you, passing legislation such as the bills we are talking about today will not only protect the privacy and wellbeing of all Americans, but it will make your jobs easier when legislating on future issues currently clouded by their online discourse,” Ava Smithing, director of advocacy at the Young People’s Alliance, will testify, according to a copy of her testimony.

Smithing will push for a data privacy bill and the passage of KOSA as steps to help prevent other teens from facing the harms she said she faced on social media.

“This data they collected represents my greatest vulnerability, that I was not thin enough. I interacted with one picture of one skinny girl, once, and that’s all I was ever able to see,” Smithing said in written testimony.

Smithing’s testimony will share her experience using social media platforms as a kid and teen.

She will also focus on how social media companies affect teens through data collection, algorithmic recommendations and design features such as infinite scroll and beauty filters.

Other witnesses testifying Wednesday include former Republican Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner and acting chair Maureen K. Ohlhausen; Kara Frederick, director of the Tech Policy Center at the Heritage Foundation; David Brody, managing attorney of the digital justice initiative at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Samir Jain, vice president of policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).

The House debate around KOSA, as well as updates to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), follows significant pressure from advocates, who have pushed the Senate to act on the legislation. The campaign culminated in a heated hearing with the CEOs of TikTok, Meta, Discord, X and Snapchat in January.

The Senate version of KOSA has 62 co-sponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). It is enough support to pass in the Senate even with the filibuster rule in place, but the bill has not yet been called to the floor for a vote.

Although the bill has broad bipartisan support, there are still groups raising concerns that it could limit teens, especially those in marginalized communities, from gaining access to information online about topics such as gender identity, sexuality and reproductive health, depending on how different state attorneys general interpret the legislation.

The bill sets out to require social media platforms to change certain features that have been targeted as harmful for teens by including opt-out requirements for algorithmic recommendation and limiting content promoting harmful behaviors, such as eating disorders and self-harm.

Former critics such as the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, have since dropped the opposition due to changes made. But other groups, such as CDT, still say those concerns are present in the legislation. Some of CDT’s largest financial supporters are tech companies, including Meta and TikTok, that would be regulated by the bill.

CDT’s Jain will testify Wednesday that “while well-intentioned” KOSA raises “concerns and must be carefully considered by this Committee, especially to the extent they would restrict access to certain types of content that the government would deem harmful to children.”

Although Jain’s testimony highlights concerns about KOSA, he will testify in support of APRA, and push for some tweaks to the bill to include stronger data protection for kids, stricter requirements for data brokers, clearer language about advertising.

APRA aims to give Americans more control over their data and require companies to be more transparent about how they use consumer data. For example, it would require companies to let users opt out of targeted advertising and data transfers, and make their privacy policies publicly available.

The bill would also let consumers seek financial damages, a key Democratic ask. To strike a bipartisan balance, it also preempts state law, a major sticking point for Republicans.

Two California Democrats, Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Nanette Díaz Barragán (D-Calif.) were the only members of the committee to vote against advancing a previous data privacy bill over preemption rules during a markup two years ago.

To mitigate concerns about the bill undermining California’s state protection, the APRA aims to be stronger than the California state laws, according to committee aides.

Samantha Parker

By Samantha Parker

Samantha is a seasoned journalist with a passion for uncovering the truth behind the headlines. With years of experience in investigative reporting, she has covered a wide range of topics including politics, crime, and entertainment. Her in-depth analysis and commitment to factual accuracy make her a respected voice in the field of journalism.

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2 thoughts on “House panel to debate privacy, kids’ safety bills”
  1. Could you clarify how the Kids Online Safety Act aims to enhance child online safety in comparison to existing measures?

  2. The APRA would prevent the ‘race to the bottom’ scenario by setting a baseline level of protection that states cannot undercut. This is critical as we face a future with even more reliance on data we create and leverage in new ways with the introduction of Generative AI.

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