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Durbin Calls on His Colleagues to Support Bipartisan Package of Bills to Protect Kids from Online Sexual Exploitation

The five bills are part of the Stopping the Exploitation of Kids Online legislative package & continue Durbin’s bipartisan efforts to protect children online

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urged his colleagues to support a package of bipartisan bills that aim 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 Big Tech companies to protect children against these harms.  He also discussed the need for Congress to update its outdated laws in the face of an unprecedented wave of technological innovation.

“Our nation’s online safety laws are stuck in the last century.  Over the past three decades, Congress has given tech and social media companies free rein to police themselves, and they’ve failed.  Now our children are paying the price for these failures,” Durbin said.  “It is time for Congress to step up and protect them.”

Durbin continued, “When it comes to online platforms like Instagram or TikTok, only a few taps and clicks stand between our children and online predators who hope to exploit them.  Just yesterday The Wall Street Journal published a report on what they describe as, ‘a vast pedophile network that has been thriving on Instagram for years.’  Years!  According to the report, Instagram not only hosts photos and videos of children being sexually exploited, it actively promotes the despicable content to other users.  Predators even connect with one another through a set of grotesque hashtags that I will not repeat on the Senate floor.  And the worst of these predators try to target new, unsuspecting victims and persuade them to share explicit images of themselves.”

Durbin shared the story of James Woods.  Last year, James—who, at 17, was getting ready to graduate from high school—died by suicide after being targeted in a scheme known as “sextortion.”  In James’s case, he was contacted—through Instagram—by a user claiming to be a young woman.  The conversation quickly turned sexual, and the user asked James to share explicit images of himself.  He complied, and moments later, he received another message, this time with a threat: Send me $6,000, or else these images will be sent to everyone you know.

James was terrified.  He tried to reason with this predator by sending them a $100 gift card.  But the threats continued.  He received 200 messages in a single day—some threatening to hurt or kill his family.  One message read: “You might as well end it now.”  Soon after, James’s father arrived home and discovered his son’s lifeless body.   

“James had his entire life ahead of him.  He was a star on the school track team.  He hoped to pursue a career in law enforcement.  But now he’s gone,” Durbin said.  “You would think that Instagram, the platform through which James was exploited, would bear some responsibility, some responsibility for this horrifying tragedy.  After all, this predator used Instagram to contact James, solicit explicit images, and then threaten his life.  But you would be wrong.  Under our existing laws of the United States, namely Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, written nearly 30 years ago, platforms like Instagram have near total immunity from being held legally accountable for this type of atrocity.  That has to change.”

Durbin went on to discuss the five bills that have recently advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan basis as part of the Stopping the Exploitation of Kids Online legislative package. Durbin’s Strengthening Transparency and Obligations to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act of 2023 (STOP CSAM Act) supports victims and increases accountability and transparency for online platforms.  The EARN IT Act creates targeted exceptions to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to remove blanket immunity from civil and criminal liability under child sexual abuse material laws and establishes a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention.  The SHIELD Act ensures that federal prosecutors have appropriate and effective tools to address serious privacy violations.  The Project Safe Childhood Act modernizes the investigation and prosecution of online child exploitation crimes.  And the REPORT Act combats the rise in online child sexual exploitation by instilling new measures to help strengthen reporting of those crimes to the CyberTipline.

“Earlier this year as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I pledged that we would take vigorous action to hold Big Tech accountable and stop the online exploitation of children,” Durbin said.  “As part of this effort, I introduced the bill, the STOP CSAM Act, CSAM stands for child sexual abuse material.  This legislation would create a civil remedy against any online platform that facilitates the exchange of child sexual abuse materials.  In other words, if the STOP CSAM Act were law today, James’ parents would be able to take legal action against Instagram for failing to fulfill their basic responsibility to protect their customers.  Importantly, my STOP CSAM Act is one of five pieces of legislation that has been reported out of the Judiciary Committee during this Congress to stop the exploitation of children online.  Every single one of these pieces of legislation was reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee by a unanimous vote.  All five.”

Durbin concluded, “Wouldn’t the American people be happy to hear that finally the Senate came together on a bipartisan basis to protect innocent children from sexploitation, from these child sexual abuse materials, and from the sort of situation that James Woods faced—the harassment with no accountability for the social media platform.  We need to move quickly to do this.  There is no excuse.  Let’s not wait on some other measure.  These are five good, strong bills that will say to the social media industry once and for all, you bear responsibility for what goes on.  And when you’re responsible for it, you can be held accountable in a court of law.  Parents and victims can’t do this on their own.  They’ve learned that over and over.  They need someone to help, and that would be the United States Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the President.  I hope every member of the Senate will join us in protecting our kids from this new world of threats.”

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.

As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Durbin is committed to ensuring children’s online safety.  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

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.