Bipartisan Social Media Legislation Plans to Roll Out Digital ID Age Verification

In early May, a bipartisan bill that would mandate social media companies to review users’ identification and verify users’ age to keep children below  the age of 13 from signing up to these platforms was introduced in the Senate.

Although the legislation does push for  ways to implement this process anonymously and has the ostensive goal of protecting children, it has privacy and free speech concerns due to how it could potentially kill online anonymity. In other words, people would have to present ID in order to use social media.

The “Protecting Kids on Social Media Act” was introduced by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, Alabama Senator Katie Britt, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, and Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz.

Ken Macon of Reclaim the Net noted that the bill’s provisions apply to platforms that let users publish text, photos, and videos, but services such as cloud storage, videoconferencing, and “crowd-sourced content for reference guides” would receive exemptions. 

Platforms that don’t receive exemptions would be mandated to confirm users’ age “taking into account existing age verification technologies.”

In addition, platforms would be obligated to let parents grant their consent for children above the age of 13 but below 18 to use their services. On top of that, platforms would not be allowed to use the personal data of users who are below the age of 18 for algorithmic recommendations. However, they would be allowed to make recommendations on ads and content “based on context where the information or advertising is related to the content being viewed by the individual.”

Failure to comply with the bill would be treated as a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The bill does not provide any specifics about the method used to verify a person’s age method. However, the Secretary of Commerce would be required to conduct a trial run for an age verification program within two years of the law going into force. The secretary would carry out a pilot program allowing people to receive a “secure digital identification credential.”

The pilot program would maintain “aggregate data that is anonymized so that it cannot be linked to individual users.” 

Such digital ID schemes should concern privacy advocates. The Internet is one of the last bastions of individual freedom. Getting the government’s dirty paws all over it would corrupt an otherwise neutral media that has facilitated unprecedented degrees of freedom.

The current political class can’t be trusted to oversee broad government initiatives that deal with the Internet, which holds true for other facets of private life for that matter.

Hopefully, such measures meet an unceremonious death in Congress. 

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