Today the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “Protecting Our Children Online.” The following statement can be attributed to Lia Holland (they/she) Campaigns and Communications Director at Fight for the Future:
“Today’s hearing showcased the real harms caused by Big Tech’s abusive business practices, but many of the solutions being presented by lawmakers would make problems worse. Proposals like the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) would put vulnerable young people, especially LGBTQ+ youth, at risk of surveillance and cut them off from lifesaving online resources and community. It will also be weaponized by right wing attorney’s general looking to score cheap political points by putting trans youth at risk.
We agree that something must be done—but the focus should be on protecting everyone online. While kids-focused legislation may be politically expedient, these proposals will always fall short if they don’t target the root of the problems. Kids don’t live in a bubble. Their rights and safety are enormously impacted by the broader social and political context around them, which Big Tech giants are shaping and distorting through their business practices.
The key problems highlighted in today’s hearing were relentless data harvesting and exploitive product design powered by our personal data. The internet could be made better and safer for everyone by passing a strong Federal data privacy law that prevents tech companies from collecting so much sensitive data about all of us in the first place, and gives individuals the ability to sue companies that misuse their data. Everyone, including kids, can also be made safer by thoughtful consumer protection designed to target exploitive and harmful product design.
We will continue to viciously oppose any efforts to prevent the adoption of end-to-end encryption, which was the subject of some discussion during the hearing. Safe and private communications are vital to everyone from closeted LGBTQ youth and those seeking abortions to journalists and political activists around the world. Lawmakers need to understand that barring end-to-end encryption leaves people’s private communications exposed to grifting tech companies and their data brokers, hackers, authoritarian governments, vigilantes, abusers, and other bad actors. This is downright dangerous and totally unacceptable—privacy is a basic human right for a reason.
The hearing also touched on deeply misguided efforts to repeal Section 230. Amid new state laws being passed around the country, Section 230 is one of the most essential protections for online abortion activist communities, for abortion funds and their donors, as well as for the existence of basic information around sexual health and gender-affirming care online. Section 230 has historically been vital in enabling marginalized communities to create safe spaces online and roll backs have come at a cost to those communities. SESTA/FOSTA, the last rolling back of Section 230, was a spectacular failure that endangered sex workers. Congress needs to learn from its mistakes when it comes to Section 230, not hurdle headlong into doing even more harm. ”