The Washington Post

House and Senate headed on collision course over data privacy for children

- CRISTIANO LIMA

The Senate took a first step toward boosting protection­s for children and teens online Wednesday by advancing two major bipartisan bills, as I reported.

But the push is set to run into obstacles in the House, where lawmakers are working on broader privacy legislatio­n that may be tough to reconcile with the narrower Senate bills.

Together, the Senate measures would give parents greater control over the online activity of their children, ban companies from collecting the data of users 13 to 16 years old without their consent, and require that companies identify and mitigate risks their products may pose to children.

The Senate Commerce Committee approved the Kids Online Safety Act and the Children and Teens Online Privacy Protection Act, a major milestone for child safety advocates.

Yet the approach stands in sharp contrast to the one taken by House lawmakers, who earlier this month advanced a sweeping proposal to create what would be the first comprehens­ive national standards for data privacy of all consumers, not just children and teens.

That bill, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, contains heightened protection­s for younger users, including a ban on targeted advertisin­g to minors. But the legislatio­n advanced in the Senate has a wider array of safeguards for younger users, including an “eraser button” that would allow children to delete their data from digital platforms such as Instagram and Tiktok.

The impasse threatens to derail what otherwise has been the most progress that American lawmakers have ever made in efforts to craft federal privacy and safety standards for the internet.

While there is general agreement on the need for protection­s for all consumers along with expanded guardrails for kids and teens online, several senators said Congress should prioritize expanding protection­s for children.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (DConn.), who is leading the Kids Online Safety Act, said Wednesday that there are “many other complicati­ons” to hashing out a broader privacy framework and “the focus should be on children.”

“I want comprehens­ive privacy legislatio­n, but by the end of this year we have to have protection­s for the children in our country, at a minimum,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey (DMass.), who for decades has pushed to increase internet safety and introduced the Children and Teens Online Privacy Protection Act.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississipp­i, the top Republican on the panel, took the opposite stance. “The need for a national law that provides data protection­s for everyone must be this committee’s priority,” said Wicker, who earlier this year joined House lawmakers in unveiling their privacy bill.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (RTenn.) said the decision on how to move forward will ultimately depend on Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-wash.), who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee. Cantwell indicated Wednesday that she is not planning to take up the broader privacy bill, dealing another blow to negotiatio­ns.

Cantwell also suggested that House leadership may be reluctant to move it. Asked if she plans to markup the House bill, Cantwell told me, “No. I don’t even think Nancy Pelosi has plans to bring it up, so pretty sure we are not going to be bringing it up.”

As House speaker, Pelosi ultimately controls whether any measure gets a floor vote. But as a California Democrat, there are questions about whether she will push to address concerns from state officials that the bill would override their own privacy law. Spokespeop­le for Pelosi did not return a request for comment on the remarks.

President Biden called on Congress to expand child privacy protection­s during his State of the Union address, a significan­t endorsemen­t that advocates said they hoped would jolt discussion­s.

But it remains to be seen whether House lawmakers will be content with passing a law that only boosts protection­s for children or whether the Senate will come around on a broader bill. Until they sort out those difference­s, consumers will be left with neither.

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