Senate Commerce Panel OKs Big Tech-Targeted Kids Protection Bills

Screengrab of Sen. Richard Blumenthal during tech hearing
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) (Image credit: C-SPAN)

Two Senate bills that would protect children’s data and, hopefully, their mental and physical well-being, passed out of committee Wednesday (July 27), which means they have been favorably reported to the full chamber for a vote.

S. 3663, the Kids Online Safety Act, passed unanimously. It would attempt to protect children's online mental health, including addressing issues like body image, eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicide.

The Children and Teens’ Only Privacy and Protection Act — or COPPA 2.0, as author Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) dubs it, updates the senator's 1998 COPPA law — passed by voice vote, but with some no votes, including those of Sen. Marsha Blackburn, the co-author of the Kids Online Safety Act, and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Both Blackburn and Lee had problems with the extent of the Federal Trade Commission’s rulemaking authority under the bill. But Blackburn said she expected by the time it got to a floor vote, she could get to a “yes,” which Lee also suggested would be the case. Blackburn said she didn't say she would oppose the rulemaking authority, but said it needed to be tightened up and made more focused and specific.

Blackburn wanted to make sure the FTC “stayed in their lane,” she said.

Markey, who was also a sponsor of the Kids Online Protection Act, said the bills would stop a historic attempt to engage in predatory behavior and sends the message to Big Tech that “enough is enough.”

Markey said he would work with all members on the legislation as it moves to the floor.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), co-sponsor of the Kids Online Safety Act, said that they would work with both Lee and Blackburn on their concerns and also felt confident they could come to a meeting of the minds.

Blumenthal said he planned to move both bills on the floor. And while he said he was sure Big Tech was not just going to sit back and would instead employ their armies of lobbyists and lawyers to derail the process. He said, instead, he hoped they would join with Congress and help as they had on other issues. 

But regardless, the kind of doggedness Markey had displayed on the issue over decades would inspire lawmakers to pursue the bills like “a dog with a bone, not going away, not surrendering no matter the obstacles,” Blumenthal said.

“The Kids Online Safety Act will hold social media companies accountable and establish a duty of care for protecting children online," said Parents Television & Media Council President Tim Winter. "The Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act expands privacy protections to teens and for children under age 13. We support both bipartisan bills and urge Congress to pass them swiftly. The youngest generations must not be the guinea pigs for technology’s harmful impact.” ▪️

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.