WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip
Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned
witnesses at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Protecting Our
Children Online.” The hearing examined the challenge of ensuring online
child safety and privacy, with witnesses testifying to the risks, threats, and
harms that children face in the online world.
Durbin first questioned Michelle DeLaune, President and CEO for the
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), about the more
than 32 million CyberTips that were sent to NCMEC in 2022 concerning child
sexual abuse material. Upwards of 80 percent of those CyberTips—more than
25 million—will be lost as companies adopt end-to-end encryption. Durbin
asked DeLaune to clarify what this meant.
DeLaune responded that the few companies
that are voluntarily seeking out known sexual child abuse material will lose
the ability to do so. She continued that children will still be abused
even after the companies “turn off the lights.” She said that NCMEC supports a
balanced approach with end-to-end encryption that supports user privacy without
using children as collateral damage.
Durbin then questioned Emma Lembke,
Founder of Log Off Movement, a group she started in 2020 to empower youth to
tackle the complexities of social media and its impact on younger
generations. When questioning Ms. Lembke, Durbin referenced Dr. Mitch
Prinstein’s testimony about adolescents’ interpersonal experiences and
psychological symptoms, including depression, self-injury, suicidal behavior,
and other health-risk behaviors. Dr. Prinstein is the Chief Science
Officer at the American Psychological Association (APA).
“I’m trying to square this, the
possibility of diverting people from conduct, which apparently is almost
addictive in its nature and move them to a different level. Can you
comment on that?”
Ms. Lembke responded that companies can
implement safe guards so content they are exposed to doesn’t lead to
Dr. Prinstein echoed Ms. Lemke’s
remarks. He also stated that the area of the brain that stops us from
engaging in impulsive acts, called the prefrontal cortex, does not fully
develop until the age of 25. Dr. Prinstein stated, “From ten to 25, kids’
brains are built in such a way to make them crave the exact kind of content
that social media can provide with like buttons and reposts, but they are
biologically incapable of stopping themselves from incessant use of these
platforms. That vulnerability is being
exploited by these platforms.”
Durbin continued, “The question is
whether or not on their own kids can solve the problem. Do they need
Dr. Prinstein said that setting boundaries
on social media can help, such as reminders telling kids they have been on
longer than they intended. He continued that the signals coming through
social media such as likes, reposts, and algorithms that are feeding kids
content are making things much worse from a neuroscientist perspective and
forcing kids to close out these social media programs could help.
In the Senate, Durbin has introduced
legislation to strengthen online privacy protections for children when websites
collect their personally identifiable information. Earlier this week, he
introduced the Clean Slate for
Kids Online Act
legislation that would give every American an enforceable legal right to demand
that internet companies delete all personal information that was collected from
or about the person when he or she was a child under age 13.
Durbin also has been working on a
comprehensive bill to close gaps in the law and crack down on the proliferation
of child sex abuse material online: the STOP CSAM Act.
releasing a discussion draft of this legislation today, which takes a
three-pronged approach that support victims, promotes accountability and
transparency by the tech industry, and ensures that offenders will receive
sentences that reflect the severity of their crimes. More information on
the STOP CSAM Act
can be found here
Video of Durbin’s questions in
Committee is available here.
Audio of Durbin’s questions in
Committee is available here.
Footage of Durbin’s questions in
Committee is available here for TV Stations.