House lawmakers introduce bill to protect children’s privacy online

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A pair of bipartisan lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill to protect children’s privacy online, responding to growing concern that minors are being manipulated and exploited on the internet without any recourse in existing law.

The Preventing Real Online Threats Endangering Children Today (PROTECT) Kids Act, introduced by Reps. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), would strengthen a decades-old children’s online privacy law to account for new innovations in technology and close loopholes that leave teenagers exposed. 

“Children today are more connected online and face dangers that we could not have imagined years ago,” Walberg said in a statement. “While advancements in technology allows for many benefits, it also poses a risk for our kids.” 

The bill would update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a 1998 statute that provides safeguards around how and when websites are allowed to collect personal information about children under the age of 13. While COPPA was originally hailed as an unprecedented win for children’s privacy advocates, lawmakers over the past year have started to seriously consider whether it needs to be updated, and the agency in charge of implementing it — the Federal Trade Commission — has initiated a review into whether it needs to be modernized. 

“In the past, predators and perpetrators sought to harm our children by lurking near schoolyards and playgrounds, but now — due to incredible advancements in technology — they are able to stalk our children through their mobile devices and in video game lobbies,” Rush said in a statement. 

The PROTECT Kids Act would allow parents to delete any personal information that websites have collected about their children and expand the categories of personal information protected by the law to include a child’s specific location and biometrics. Biometrics include information about children’s bodies including their faces, fingerprints and DNA.

The bill would also raise the age of children protected by COPPA. Whereas right now, only children under the age of 13 fall under the law’s protection, the new bill would extend parental consent protections to all children under 16. 

Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have been working on a separate effort to update COPPA in the upper chamber. Hawley and Markey’s so-called COPPA 2.0 would also raise the age of children protected under the law and offer parents an “eraser button” to remove their children’s data from particular services.

Senators from both parties have raised the possibility that elements of Hawley and Markey’s “COPPA 2.0” could make it into a comprehensive federal privacy bill, which could emerge as soon as this year.

A spokesman for Rush told The Hill in an email that “while the bills do share some similarities,” the House bill represents “a separate effort.” 

Tags Biometrics Bobby Rush Children's Online Privacy Protection Act Ed Markey Internet privacy Josh Hawley Tim Walberg

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