Lawmakers have introduced a slew of bipartisan bills to regulate technology, and it’s one of the few major policy issues where Republicans and Democrats are broadly aligned.
WASHINGTON – Should TikTok be banned? Should younger children be prevented from interacting with social media? Can the government ensure that private information is safe? What about brand new artificial intelligence interfaces? Or should users self-regulate and leave the government out of it?
Tech regulation is gaining momentum on Capitol Hill amid concerns over China’s ownership of TikTok and as parents become increasingly concerned about the effects of social media on a post-pandemic mental health crisis. Noting that many young people are struggling, President Joe Biden said in his February State of the Union address that “it’s time” to pass bipartisan legislation to impose tighter limits on the collection of personal data and targeted ban advertising to children.
“We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the for-profit experiment they are conducting on our children,” Biden said.
Lawmakers have introduced a slew of bipartisan bills to regulate technology, and it’s one of the few major policy issues where Republicans and Democrats are broadly aligned, boosting hopes of compromise in a divided Congress.
Still, any attempt to tackle the mammoth industry would meet major obstacles. Technology companies have aggressively fought any federal interference, and they have now operated for decades without strict federal oversight, making new rules or guidelines much more complicated.
A look at some areas of potential regulation:
Several House and Senate bills would seek to make social media, and the Internet in general, safer for children who will inevitably be online. Lawmakers cite numerous examples of teens who have committed suicide following cyberbullying or died by engaging in dangerous behaviors encouraged on social media.
In the Senate, at least two competing bills target the online safety of children. Legislation by Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., passed last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Commerce, requires social media companies to be more transparent about their activities and enable default child safety settings. Minors would have the option to disable addictive product features and algorithms that push certain content.
The idea, the senators say, is that platforms “should be secure.” The legislation, which Blumenthal and Blackburn reintroduced last week, would also require social media companies to prevent certain dangers to minors, including promoting suicide, disordered eating, substance abuse, sexual exploitation and other illegal behavior.
A second bill introduced last month by four senators — Democratic senators Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Katie Britt of Alabama — would take a more aggressive approach and ban children under 13. of using social media platforms and requiring parental consent for teens. It would also prohibit the companies from using algorithms to recommend content for users under the age of 18.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., has not commented on specific legislation, but told reporters Tuesday, “I believe we need some kind of child protection” on the Internet.
Critics of the bills, including some civil rights groups and advocacy groups affiliated with technology companies, say the proposals could threaten teens’ online privacy and prevent them from accessing content that could help them, such as resources for people contemplating suicide or struggle with their sexual problems. and gender identity.
“Legislators should focus on educating and empowering families to take control of their online experience,” said Carl Szabo of NetChoice, a group affiliated with Meta, TikTok, Google and Amazon, among others.
Biden’s State of the Union remarks appeared to be a nod to legislation from Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., that would expand protections of children’s privacy online and prohibit companies from sharing personal collecting data from younger teens and prohibiting targeted advertising to children and teens. The bill, also reintroduced last week, would create a so-called “eraser button” that would allow parents and children to delete personal information, if possible.
A broader House effort would try to give both adults and children more control over their data with what lawmakers are calling a “national privacy standard.” Legislation passed last year with broad bipartisan support by the House Energy and Commerce Committee would seek to minimize the data collected and make it illegal to target ads to children, duplicating state laws that have attempted to introduce privacy restrictions. But the bill, which would also have given consumers more rights to file lawsuits for privacy violations, never made it to the House of Representatives.
The prospects for the House legislation are unclear now that the Republicans have the majority. House Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash…, has made the issue a priority by holding several data privacy hearings. But the committee has not yet moved forward with a new bill.
Lawmakers introduced a series of bills to ban TikTok or make it easier to ban after a combative House hearing in March in which lawmakers from both parties taunted TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about his company’s ties with the Chinese communist government, data security and malicious content on the app.
Chew tried to reassure lawmakers that the hugely popular video-sharing app prioritizes user safety and shouldn’t be banned because of its Chinese connections. But the testimony gave new impetus to the efforts.
Shortly after the hearing, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican, attempted to force a Senate vote on legislation that would ban TikTok from operating in the United States. But he was blocked by a fellow Republican, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who said a ban would violate the Constitution and anger the millions of voters who use the app.
Another bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, like Hawley’s bill, would ban U.S. economic transactions with TikTok, but it would also create a new framework for the executive to ban foreign apps deemed hostile. , to block. His account is sponsored by Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis.
There is broad Senate support for bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and South Dakota Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, not specifically calling out TikTok , but the Commerce Department has the power to assess and potentially mitigate foreign threats to technology platforms.
The White House has indicated it would support that bill, but it’s unclear if it will be considered in the Senate or if it could receive support from House Republicans.
TikTok has launched an extensive lobbying campaign for survival, including enlisting influencers and young voters to argue that the app is harmless.
A newer question for Congress is whether lawmakers should start regulating artificial intelligence as rapidly developing and potentially revolutionary products such as AI chatbot ChatGPT begin to market and can mimic human behavior in many ways.
Senate Majority Leader Schumer has made emerging technology a priority, arguing that the United States should stay ahead of China and other countries scrutinizing regulations for AI products. He has collaborated with AI experts and released a general framework of what regulation might look like, including greater disclosure of the people and data involved in the technology’s development, greater transparency, and explanations of how the bots arrive at responses .
Schumer said any regulation “should prevent potentially catastrophic damage to our country while ensuring that the U.S. advances and is at the forefront of this transformative technology.”
The White House has also addressed the issue, recently announcing a $140 million investment to establish seven new AI research institutes. Vice President Kamala Harris met with the heads of Google, Microsoft and other companies developing AI products on Thursday.