US legislation aimed at protecting children’s online safety and privacy will have “harmful unintended consequences for young people,” according to more than 90 privacy and civil rights groups.
In a letter sent to US Senate leaders on Monday, the organizations urged lawmakers to scrap the proposed Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), which they warned would encourage service providers to share more data about Gathering children, restricting access to sex education and resources for LGBTQ+ youth and allowing parents to spy on their teens.
“Older minors have their own independent rights to privacy and access to information, and not all parent-child dynamics are healthy or constructive,” the groups wrote. “KOSA risks exposing teens experiencing domestic violence and parental abuse to additional forms of digital surveillance and control that could prevent these vulnerable youth from seeking help or support.”
Signatories include the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Fight for the Future, the ACLU, GLAAD, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Tor Project.
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the law in February in response to media reports and subcommittee hearings on the practices of social media companies that lawmakers say are children endanger.
“Big Tech has brazenly abandoned children and betrayed their trust by prioritizing profit over safety,” Blumenthal said at the time. “The Kids Online Safety Act would finally give kids and their parents the tools and safeguards they need to protect themselves from toxic content – and hold big tech accountable for extremely dangerous algorithms.”
Among other things, KOSA would require that platforms used by children under the age of 16 prevent the promotion of content that promotes harmful behaviors such as self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, bullying and harassment.
In addition, minors and their parents may opt out of algorithmic recommendations using the minor’s personal information and delete the minor’s account and associated information. Parents can also control their children’s privacy and account settings and track how much time is spent online.
In the last few weeks of the Lame Duck Congress, advocates and lawmakers have proposed including the children’s privacy proposal in the year-end defense or spending bill to ensure it passes.
In their letter of objection, the organizations argue that KOSA’s vague “duty of care” to prevent harm will oblige online service providers to employ comprehensive content filters to restrict underage access to certain content. “Content filtering is notoriously inaccurate; Filtering used by schools and libraries in response to the Children’s Internet Protection Act has restricted access to critical information such as sex education or resources for LGBTQ+ youth,” the signatories said.
The proposal would particularly hurt LGBTQ+ youth and could be armed by attorney generals to censor online resources targeting queer and transgender children, they wrote. “At a time when LGBTQ+-themed books are being banned from school libraries and people providing healthcare to trans children are being falsely accused of ‘caregiving’, KOSA would cut off another important access to information for at-risk youth,” reads in the letter .
“In short, while KOSA has laudable goals, it also has significant unintended consequences that threaten the privacy, security and access to information rights of youth and adults alike,” it continued.
The KOSA push comes as surveillance agencies, Congress and state legislators alike battle over how to keep minors safe from harm online without trampling on digital privacy and data protection rights.
In addition to KOSA, the Online Privacy Protection Act, which bans marketing to minors without their consent, is also facing pressure by the end of the year to make it onto President Joe Biden’s desk.
And in September, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2273 into law to protect children’s online privacy by requiring websites to verify the age of visitors. The state law was modeled after the UK Code for Age-Friendly Design. ®
https://www.theregister.com/2022/11/29/90_groups_oppose_kosa/ More than 90 groups are defying the US Kids Online Safety Act • The Register