Lawmakers have introduced a number 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 banned from using social networks? Can the government ensure the security of private information? What about completely new AI interfaces? Or should users regulate themselves, leaving the government out of the picture?
Tech regulation gathers steam on Capitol Hill amid concerns over China’s ownership of TikTok and growing parentage increasingly worried about social media effects on the post-pandemic mental health crisis. Noting that many young people are struggling, President Joe Biden said in February State of the Union speech that “the time has come” to pass bipartisan legislation to impose tighter restrictions on the collection of personal data and ban targeted advertising to children.
“We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are conducting on our children for profit,” Biden said.
Lawmakers have introduced a number of bipartisan bills to regulate technology, one of the few major policy issues where Republicans and Democrats are broadly aligned, raising hopes for a compromise in a divided Congress.
However, any attempt to take on the huge industry will face major obstacles. Tech companies have aggressively fought any federal intervention and have operated without strict federal oversight for decades, making any new rules and guidance much more difficult.
A look at some areas of potential regulation:
SAFETY OF CHILDREN
Several House and Senate bills would attempt 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 taken their own lives after being cyberbullied or died while engaging in dangerous behavior encouraged on social media.
There are at least two competing bills in the Senate that focus on children’s online safety. Legislation by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, R-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last year, would require social networks to be more transparent about their operations and include child safety settings by default. Minors will be able to opt out of addictive product features and algorithms that promote certain content.
The idea, the senators said, is that platforms should be “secure by design.” The legislation, which Blumenthal and Blackburn revived last week, also requires social media companies to prevent certain dangers to minors — including the promotion of suicide, disordered eating, drug addiction, sexual exploitation and other illegal behavior.
A second bill was introduced last month four senators — Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Cathy Britt of Alabama — would take a more aggressive approach, banning children under 13 from using social media platforms and requiring parental consent. for teenagers. It would also prevent companies from recommending content through algorithms to users under the age of 18.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, R-N.Y., did not comment on specific legislation, but told reporters Tuesday, “I think we need some kind of protection for children” online.
Critics of the bills, including some civil rights groups and advocacy groups tied to tech companies, say the proposals could jeopardize teens’ online privacy and prevent them from accessing content that could help them, such as resources for those who are thinking about suicide or struggling with their sexual and gender identity.
“Lawmakers need to focus on educating and empowering families so they can control their online experience,” said Carl Szabo of NetChoice, a group that works with Meta, TikTok, Google and Amazon, among other companies.
Biden’s State of the Union remarks appeared to be a reaction to legislation by Sens. Ed Markey, R-Massachusetts, and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, which would expand online privacy protections for children by barring companies from collecting the personal data of younger teenagers. and banning targeted advertising to children and teenagers. The bill, also reintroduced last week, would create a so-called “eraser button” that would allow parents and children to delete personal data when possible.
A broader House effort would try to give both adults and children more control over their data through what lawmakers are calling a “national privacy standard.” The legislation, passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee with broad bipartisan support last year, would seek to minimize the data collected and make it illegal to serve ads to children, usurping state laws that tried to impose privacy restrictions. But a bill that would have also given consumers more rights to file privacy lawsuits never made it to the House of Representatives.
The House bill’s prospects are unclear now that Republicans hold the majority. House Energy and Commerce Speaker Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-Wash.., has made the issue a priority by holding several hearings on data privacy. But the committee has yet to move forward with the new bill.
Lawmakers have introduced a series of bills to either ban TikTok or ease its ban after a dramatic backlash Home hearing in which lawmakers from both parties impeached TikTok CEO Shaw Zichu over his company’s ties to China’s communist government, data security and harmful content on the app.
Chu tried to reassure lawmakers that the wildly popular video-sharing app is committed to keeping users safe and should not be banned because of its Chinese ties. But the testimony gave new impetus to the effort.
Shortly after the hearing, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, tried to force a vote in the Senate on legislation that would ban TikTok from operating in the United States. But it was blocked by fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who said the ban would violate the Constitution and anger millions of voters who use the app.
Another bill, initiated by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, would, like Hawley’s bill, ban US economic transactions with TikTok, but it would also create a new framework for the executive branch to block any foreign programs deemed hostile. His bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Raja Krishnamurthy, R-Illinois, and Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin.
The Senate has broad support for bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, R-Va., and South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, which does not specifically call out TikTok but gives the Commerce Department the authority to review and potentially limit external threats technological platform.
The White House has made it clear it will support the bill, but it’s unclear whether it will pass the Senate or win support among Republicans in the House of Representatives.
TikTok has launched an extensive campaign to lobby for its survival, including through use influencers and young voters claim that the program is not harmful.
The new question for Congress is whether lawmakers should move toward regulation artificial intelligence when fast-moving and potentially revolutionary products such as AI chatbot ChatGPT are starting to hit the market and can mimic human behavior in many ways.
Senate Majority Leader Schumer has made new technology a priority, arguing that the United States must stay ahead of China and other countries which are looking at regulations regarding artificial intelligence products. It is working with experts on artificial intelligence and has released a general outline of what the regulation could look like, including expanded disclosure about the people and data involved in the development of the technology, greater transparency and an explanation of how bots get answers.
Schumer said that any possible regulation must “prevent potentially catastrophic harm to our country while ensuring that the U.S. is advancing and leading the way in this transformative technology.”
The White House has also focused on the issue, recently announcing a $140 million investment to create seven new artificial intelligence research institutes. Vice President Kamala Harris met on Thursday with executives from Google, Microsoft and other companies developing artificial intelligence products.