Democratic lawmaker introduces bill to increase minors' online protection

Democratic lawmaker introduces bill to increase minors' online protection
© Aaron Schwartz

Rep. Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorOvernight Energy: Military sees surge in sites contaminated by 'forever chemicals' | USDA closes office wing due to coronavirus | Watchdog raises concerns over Trump energy regulator Biden seeks to capitalize on Super Tuesday surprise M ad buy praises swing-district Democrats' environmental work MORE (D-Fla.) on Thursday introduced a bill to increase protections for minors online, an effort that could have legs this Congress as lawmakers fret over the mistreatment and exploitation of children on the internet.  

Castor's bill, the Protecting the Information of our Vulnerable Children and Youth Act, would implement new safeguards around how social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube collect and use personal information about anyone under the age of 18.

It would offer sweeping updates to a decades-old children's privacy law — the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) — which is accused of failing to adequately protect children amid rapid technological advancement that has unearthed novel privacy concerns.

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"This bill is a modernization of the COPPA, and it comes at a time when our technology here in the 21st century — the tracking and data-gathering — have outpaced our current privacy protections in law, especially for kids," Castor said on a call with reporters on Thursday. "Congress needs to update COPPA to provide families with the necessary tools to protect our kids, and this bill will do just that."  

Castor's bill would empower parents to sue tech companies including YouTube and Facebook for violating their children's privacy, a provision that goes further than previous children's online privacy proposals introduced this session. 

It would prevent internet companies from targeting ads toward children under 13, and allow minors between the ages of 13 and 17 to have more control over what companies can do with their information. And it would force the companies to delete any information they have on children upon request.

"This bill provides sorely needed safeguards for all teens up until adulthood," Ariel Fox Johnson, a counsel with children's online rights group Common Sense Media, told reporters. "It will prevent companies from turning a blind eye to children on their sites. Companies that know or have reason to know they have young people on their site will have to protect them."

Castor's proposal is expected to move as part of a larger comprehensive privacy bill under the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Staff on the committee circulated a draft proposal of that broader legislation late last year, but left blank a section dedicated to "children's privacy." 

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Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyThe Memo: Virus crisis upends political world Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 5G rivals to Huawei | Amazon, eBay grilled over online counterfeits | Judge tosses Gabbard lawsuit against Google | GOP senator introduces bill banning TikTok on government devices Lawmakers grill Amazon, eBay executives over online counterfeits MORE (D-Ill.), the chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee leading the charge on a privacy bill, told reporters this week that she is hoping to "merge" a number of separate measures "at the end into a big bill."  

Experts on the Thursday call said they hope Castor's proposal could merge with a separate but similar Senate bill dubbed "COPPA 2.0," introduced last year by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). 

Castor said the Senate is a "conundrum" but that she hopes "we can move this together." She said she's currently reaching out to get more Republican co-sponsors.