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Durbin Unveils New Efforts to Protect Children’s Online Safety on the Senate Floor

Durbin: “Congress must impose stronger, enforceable online protections for kids. Our children are not commodities, and we can’t continue to expect parents and victims alone to stand up to Big Tech with few ways to hold tech companies accountable.”

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, unveiled new efforts to stop the exploitation of children online.  In his remarks, Durbin described how social media companies design their products to keep children hooked to their platforms, and discussed the serious, even deadly, harms that children face online as well as the inadequate efforts of social media companies to protect children against these harms. 

“There’s a grave threat to America’s future lurking online.  Big Tech giants and other online platforms are working every day to capture the minds of our children in order to pad their profits,” Durbin said.  “So who is protecting our kids from internet profiteers and predators? I’m sorry to say, almost no one.  In fact, our laws are written to protect the predators, not the kids.  Clearly, every child can benefit from a safe online experience.  They can make friends, expand their knowledge, learn skills, but social media, we all know, has a dangerous dark side.  Innocent children are lured into online environments and powerful algorithms work to keep them there.  Unsuspecting kids can be sexually exploited, and their childhood images captured forever by predators and profit-taking abusers.  Drug pushers no longer search for playgrounds to sell deadly narcotics.  Two clicks on the internet bring them their new, young customers.  Many children are bullied and harassed online or pressured into dangerous, deadly behavior.”

Durbin continued, “We’ve given tech companies nearly three decades to police themselves. They have failed miserably, and our children are paying the price.  Our teenagers are in a mental health crisis.  Congress must impose stronger, enforceable online protections for kids.  Our children are not commodities, and we can’t continue to expect parents and victims alone to stand up to Big Tech with few ways to hold tech companies accountable.”

During his speech, Durbin told the story of Charlotte, whose images she shared with a man she thought was a friend when she was in high school were posted on more than 100 websites across the globe, often with Charlotte’s name and other identifiable information included.  Charlotte filed her first of six police reports about the images when she was 18.  Eventually, she, her mother, her boyfriend, and child safety groups would file hundreds of reports with social media providers around the world trying to get the images taken down – often to no avail.

Durbin said his proposed Strengthening Transparency and Obligations to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act of 2023 (STOP CSAM Act), will help survivors like Charlotte and crack down on the proliferation of child sex abuse material (CSAM) online.  To combat this horrific crime, Durbin’s STOP CSAM Act supports victims and increases accountability and transparency for online platforms.

“This Senate can help Charlotte and countless other young people who are sexually abused online each year by passing a bill I’m introducing… it’s called the STOP CSAM Act.  CSAM stands for child sexual abuse material.  Federal law still uses the old term ‘child pornography.’  But that’s misleading because ‘pornography’ implies consent, and children under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to the creation or sharing of sexually explicit images of themselves.  So these images are, by definition, evidence of a crime. Yet, under current law it is extremely difficult to bring lawsuits against tech companies that allow child sexual abuse materials to be posted on their websites… [the STOP CSAM Act] would protect victims and promote accountability within the tech industry. Companies that fail to remove CSAM and related imagery after being notified about them would face significant fines.  They would also be required to produce annual reports detailing their efforts to keep children safe from online sex predators.  And any company that promotes or facilitates online child exploitation could face new criminal and civil penalties.”

Durbin concluded, “When Section 230 was created in 1996, Mark Zuckerberg was in the sixth grade.  Facebook and social media sites didn’t even exist.  It’s time that we rewrite the law to reflect the reality of today’s world… We have the bipartisan support in the Senate to protect our children and grandchildren online.  It’s time that we use it.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.

In February, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, “Protecting Our Children Online,” which included powerful testimony from those working to increase children’s privacy and safety online.  Durbin’s opening statement from that hearing is available here and witness questions are available here

The Senate Judiciary Committee has noticed its intent to markup three pieces of legislation to help stop the exploitation of children online: EARN IT Act of 2023, introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); Durbin’s STOP CSAM Act of 2023; and the Cooper Davis Act, introduced by Senators Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

In the Senate, Durbin has introduced legislation to strengthen online privacy protections for children when websites collect their personally identifiable information.  Earlier this year, 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.