Support for Child Privacy Protections

"We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit. And it’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of us."

 - President Biden, 2023 State of the Union Address

At the State of the Union (SOTU) address last Tuesday night, President Biden reaffirmed that child privacy remains a priority for his administration. This statement inspired the “loudest ovation” of the night (despite coming 70 minutes into the speech) from both Democratic and Republican members.

Welcome to what is shaping up to be the most active child and student privacy year in more than two decades. The President's comments are a harbinger of the busy year to come, underscoring the rapidly growing federal focus on legislating child privacy.

Finding Common Ground on Child Privacy

During his speech, Biden emphasized the need for Congressional Republicans and Democrats to work together. This mirrors the sentiment in Biden’s January op-ed, which stated:

There will be many policy issues we disagree on in the new Congress, but bipartisan proposals to protect our privacy and our children; to prevent discrimination, sexual exploitation, and cyberstalking; and to tackle anticompetitive conduct shouldn’t separate us. Let’s unite behind our shared values and show the nation we can work together to get the job done.

The bipartisan ovation at Tuesday’s speech may indicate that child privacy is one of the few issues that might make it through this gridlocked Congress.

Increased Online Protections for Children

Biden’s goal to reign in Big Tech is part of a bigger political landscape veering towards more privacy protections for children. There is a growing trend towards legislating to increase protections for children on the Internet, as seen federally in Congress’s push to include the Children and Teens' Online Privacy Protection Act (aka COPPA 2.0) and the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) in the omnibus last December.

On the state level, California led the charge by passing the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (ADCA) last year, and multiple states have already introduced similar bills this year. The SOTU Fact Sheet said that “platforms and other interactive digital service providers should be required to prioritize the privacy and wellbeing of young people above profit and revenue in their product design, including safety by design standards and practices for online platforms, products, and services” - which feels like direct support of the principles embodied in laws like the ADCA.

Federal Bills Coming Soon

It is currently unclear what form potential bipartisan resolutions to increase privacy protections for children online may take, but we have a few clues. Senator Blumenthal, who sponsored KOSA in 2022, released a statement following the SOTU saying he “was especially encouraged by [Biden’s] support for stopping the poisonous effect of social media” and that his “Kids Online Safety Act is long overdue.” Mr. Blumenthal brought up KOSA again at this week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Protecting Our Children Online.

However, some lawmakers are still advocating for a much broader privacy law; Rep. McMorris Rogers, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released a statement after SOTU declaring that the best way forward would be adopting a comprehensive federal data privacy law like the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA), specifically saying that:

The first step is for Congress to pass comprehensive privacy and data security protections with one national standard that stops Big Tech’s harmful abuse of power. If President Biden truly wants to promote Big Tech transparency and accountability, protect our kids, and strengthen privacy protections for Americans, he should join Energy and Commerce's bipartisan efforts to enact comprehensive data privacy legislation.

And we can’t forget that policymaker interest in student privacy is also on the rise; children spend the majority of their waking hours at school, so any child privacy changes will have serious implications for education stakeholders. Last week’s House Ed & Workforce Committee hearing, “American Education in Crisis,” included repeated comments asking Congress to highlight the existing rights parents have under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). Last Congress’ Parents Bill of Rights Act (PBOR)–soon to be reintroduced by the Republican majority very soon–included several significant amendments to both FERPA and PPRA, and we anticipate that the new version will include even more. And Senator Markey, who has reintroduced FERPA rewrites for the past decade, is on the Senate HELP Committee for the first time, so we’ll likely see some student privacy hearings on the Senate side as well.

So how can we prepare for the avalanche of child privacy laws coming our way? Buckle up, catch up on the protections that already exist, and check out bills likely to be reintroduced this Congress.

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