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Kids Online Safety Act may harm minors, civil society groups warn

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Dozens of civil society groups urged lawmakers in a letter Monday against passing a bill that goals to guard children from online harm, warning the bill itself could actually pose further danger to kids and teenagers.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, GLAAD and Wikimedia Foundation were among the many greater than 90 groups that wrote to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rating Member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., opposing the Kids Online Safety Act.

The bipartisan bill, led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., would establish responsibilities for sites which might be prone to be accessed by kids to act in the perfect interest of users who’re 16 or younger. Meaning the platforms can be chargeable for mitigating the chance of physical or emotional harm to young users, including through the promotion of self-harm or suicide, encouragement of addictive behavior, enabling of online bullying or predatory marketing.

The bill would require sites to default to more private settings for users 16 and younger and limit the contacts that might connect with them. It might also require tools for folks to trace the time their kids are spending on certain sites and provides them access to some information in regards to the kids’ use of the platform so that oldsters can address potential harm. Sites would should let their young users know when parental tools are in effect.

The civil society groups that signed Monday’s letter, which incorporates several groups that advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ community, warned that the tools the bill creates to guard children could actually backfire.

“KOSA would require online services to ‘prevent’ a set of harms to minors, which is effectively an instruction to employ broad content filtering to limit minors’ access to certain online content,” the groups wrote, adding that content filters utilized by schools in response to earlier laws have limited resources for sex education and for LGBTQ youth.

“Online services would face substantial pressure to over-moderate, including from state Attorneys General looking for to make political points about what kind of knowledge is suitable for young people,” they added. “At a time when books with LGBTQ+ themes are being banned from school libraries and other people providing healthcare to trans children are being falsely accused of ‘grooming,’ KOSA would cut off one other vital avenue of access to information for vulnerable youth.”

The bill has gained momentum at a time when debates over parental control of what is taught at school, specifically because it pertains to gender identity and sexual orientation, have come to the forefront as a result of controversial state measures corresponding to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, also referred to by opponents because the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The KOSA opponents warned that prescriptive parental controls could possibly be harmful to kids in abusive situations.

“KOSA risks subjecting teens who’re experiencing domestic violence and parental abuse to additional types of digital surveillance and control that might prevent these vulnerable youth from reaching out for help or support,” the groups wrote. “And by creating strong incentives to filter and enable parental control over the content minors can access, KOSA could also jeopardize young people’s access to end-to-end encrypted technologies, which they depend upon to access resources related to mental health and to maintain their data protected from bad actors.”

The groups also fear that the bill would incentivize sites to gather much more details about children to confirm their ages and place further restrictions on minors’ accounts.

“Age verification may require users to offer platforms with personally identifiable information corresponding to date of birth and government-issued identification documents, which may threaten users’ privacy, including through the chance of information breaches, and chill their willingness to access sensitive information online because they can’t achieve this anonymously,” they wrote. “Reasonably than age-gating privacy settings and safety tools to use only to minors, Congress should give attention to ensuring that every one users, no matter age, profit from strong privacy protections by passing comprehensive privacy laws.”

The groups called the goals of the laws “laudable,” but said KOSA would ultimately fall flat in its goals to guard children.

“We urge members of Congress not to maneuver KOSA forward this session, either as a standalone bill or attached to other urgent laws, and encourage members to work toward solutions that protect young people’s rights to privacy and access to information and their ability to hunt protected and trusted spaces to speak online,” they wrote.

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