Yesterday, Fight for the Future hosted a Zoom press conference with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) as well as subject matter experts from the ACLU, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, Reframe Health and Justice, Equality Arizona, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Center for Democracy and Technology to explain how “protect the kids” bills like KOSA, the EARN IT Act, the RESTRICT Act and STOP CSAM wouldn’t do anything to make kids safer online. Instead, these bills would put more kids in danger while undermining our rights to free expression and privacy.
A recording is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KD9CgkAc4U8
The conference anticipated today’s advancement of the EARN IT Act out of committee. During the hearing, lawmakers including Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) echoed panelists’ concerns about the impact of the loss of encrypted platforms on marginalized communities.
Experts came together from the worlds of free expression, sex worker advocacy and harm reduction, LGBTQ+ rights, constitutional rights, grassroots youth organizing, state-level advocacy, and digital rights. Together, they comprehensively demonstrated how KOSA, EARN IT, RESTRICT, and STOP CSAM would lead to an internet fractured and sanitized by government censorship.
By repeating the mistakes of SESTA/FOSTA, KOSA, EARN IT and STOP CSAM would lead to the decimation of online communities and harm reduction resources. KOSA would allow state Attorneys General to dictate what does and does not harm youth, creating a censorship apparatus that plays right into the hands of anti-LGBTQ+ extremists. As Senator Wyden outlined during the event, there are clear ways to crack down on CSAM, address Big Tech’s biggest abuses, and protect kids from harmful design features without violating Americans’ fundamental rights and freedoms.
The event followed the reintroduction of KOSA. Changes to the 2023 version of the bill are lipstick on a pig: they do not address the fundamental flaws of the bill, which, if passed, will suppress broad categories of speech and prevent vulnerable people from accessing crucial resources.
Here are quotes from participants in today’s event:
Senator Ron Wyden (he/him, D-OR): “My bottom line here is these bills are going to make kids less safe. [EARN IT and STOP CSAM] are going to weaken the single strongest technology protecting kids and families online… weakening encryption is probably the premier gift you could give to predators and god-awful people who want to stalk and spy on kids.
I want to make one quick point about the Kids Online Safety Act. Giving extremist governors the power to decide what content is safe for kids is a non-starter. Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are using every bit of power they have to go after queer and trans kids, censor information about reproductive health, and scrub basic history about race in America. I’m not about to give them even more power. I urge my colleagues to focus on elements that are actually going to protect kids rather than just handing more power to MAGA Republicans to wage a culture war against children.
The most important thing Congress can do to improve the internet for kids and everybody else is to pass comprehensive privacy legislation. This has been the longest running battle since the Trojan War, and it’s time to take on the special interests and get a strong bill passed.”
Cody Venzke (he/him, ACLU): “[KOSA’s] duty of care requires platforms to be deputies of the government to seek out disfavored content and police it, whether it’s a resource that’s helpful for children or simply information that could be valuable for them. Identifying content as disfavored not only runs up against the First Amendment and its ideals, but also would undermine the ability of children adults and everyone online to get information that’s helpful for them.
We can make the internet safer and more open without undermining civil rights and civil liberties, or, as the bills were discussing today would ultimately do, making the internet less safe for kids and children… These bills would ultimately chill speech and increase surveillance, would undermine the protections of the Fourth Amendment, and increase the targeting of content—running up against the ideals that make our republic work.
Ricci Joy Levy (she/her, Woodhull Freedom Foundation): “These bills we’re discussing today, as well-intentioned as they may be, must be called out for both constitutional and human rights violations. I want to encourage everyone, though, to also pull back and look at them as part and parcel of a well-crafted, skillfully executed, coordinated campaign from opponents of free speech and expression that are really designed to restrict personal autonomy, to limit sexual freedom, and to suppress free speech. This campaign that I’m referring to includes the laws being passed all over the country that are putting people at risk for being gay, a sex worker, a teacher, a librarian… It’s vitally important that we recognize that this is all connected. Otherwise I believe we will find ourselves in a world where only state-sanctioned material is available us to us—online or anywhere.”
Kate D’Adamo (she/they, Reframe Health and Justice): “I’m coming to you and speaking as a sex worker rights advocate and a national organizer, as someone who does a lot of anti-trafficking work in the sex trade and especially as a harm reductionist. After FOSTA/SESTA was passed through Congress, even before it was signed into law, we started losing websites specifically for their relationship to the sex industry. Not a relationship to trafficking but simply because they provided visibility, community, connection, and safety to people who trade sex—especially visibility.
[KOSA and EARN IT] are not bills that need tweaks. These are indicators that we have lost the ability to fundamentally understand how to go after social problems. And both of them are playing out the same dynamics and the same problems that we saw with FOSTA/SESTA. I can tell you that we are talking very sincerely about lives. We are talking very sincerely about compromising the ability to find people who need information and share it, in order to save those lives.”
Jeanne Woodbury (she/her, Equality Arizona): “For a long time, trans people and even discussion of trans identity has been presented as a harm to children, and this is something that’s only escalated over the past decade. This is something that keeps getting more and more intense each year, and it fully plays into some of the open-ended language about harm to children that we’ve seen in some internet bills… We need to be really careful when we take a big approach at the national level to make the internet safer not to play into the hands of a really coordinated group of people who have been refining anti-trans policy for over a decade now. This is something that I’m in a position to see firsthand, working in Arizona as a LGBT Advocate”
India McKinney (she/her, Electronic Frontier Foundation): “In the last year, we have seen Attorneys General in California and Washington DC in New York issue public safety alerts that say if you’re a person that is considering or seeking an abortion you should use end-to-end encrypted messagings to communicate with your loved ones, so that law enforcement in states where abortion is not legal cannot get access to the content of your communications… We have also seen, in Ukraine, the massive downloading of encrypted platforms to communicate with each other about the grassroots war effort to push back against the Russian invaders. Strong encryption protocols that are easily available, widely accessible, and supported by the major platforms provide safety and security protocols for everyone—including children, including survivors of domestic violence, including the friends and loved ones of military people, including foreign service officers. There’s a lot of reasons why you would want to use an encrypted protocol—also just because you like your privacy.”
Melissa Kadri (she/her, grassroots organizer): “When you post about these bills on Reddit, when you post about them on TikTok, on Twitter… average everyday people open the link to the text of the bill, they’re reading it, and they’re coming back terrified. People aren’t stupid—Gen Z is not stupid. They see right through these attempts at protecting children for what they are, which is mass censorship and surveillance that’s actively harming our communities.
I understand that there are parents and kids going to the Capitol Hill talking about the eating disorders that they have gone through, talking about the content that they’ve seen, talking about the friends that they have lost. I’ve lost friends too… I can tell you, these bills are not the solution. These bills are actively creating more child abuse by destroying communities, by destroying the places where children can just go online and hang out, and removing resources from them. And [they’re] letting the same conservative far-right lobbying groups go after the same content the way they’re going after trans kids in states right now.”
Evan Greer (she/they, Director of Fight for the Future): “I’m a parent of a 12 year old, and I care deeply about my 12 year old’s future. And for me, I want to ask not just what policies will make the internet more sanitized or safer for my child, but what policies govern in the internet will lead to the type of world that I want my child to grow up in. That’s a world where she has access to human rights, where she has access to accurate life-saving information about issues like mental health and substance abuse, and where she has access to online community. And that is true for so many children, particularly LGBTQ kids who are facing unprecedented assaults across the country.
There’s a Mr. Rogers quote where he says ‘if it can be mentioned, it can be managed,’ and I think that that’s actually an important philosophy to think about here. A lot of these bills are based on the idea that we protect our kids by sequestering them off from discussion of these important topics; unfortunately we actually know from evidence and data that that harms our kids, and that our kids are safer when they are able to discuss in with their peers and with experts on these issues that affect. Them these bills would unfortunately cut kids off from those resources,and that’s why we believe that they will make kids less safe, and not more safe.”