Politicos on both sides of the aisle are still unraveling the contents of President Biden’s State of the Union address. There were many policy priorities that ignited cheer of joy or jeers of frustration from the opposing parties. However, there was one issue that stood out like a beacon as both sides of the aisle dropped the political theatre for a moment and listened with genuine interest.
Children’s privacy is a leading policy priority that has begun to consume the attention of legislative halls across our nation. And lawmakers are right to turn their attention to this issue. Taking deliberate and responsible action to protect the next generation is commendable.
But the remedy must be clear, and devoid of any politicization whatsoever. This cannot become part of a “culture war.” Partisan perspectives cannot and should not be woven into bills written to protect our children.
And beyond possible politicization, there is a need for this legislation to be enacted at the federal level. This is imperative to keep our children invariably safe in every corner of our nation – while still maintaining equitable access to the internet. A child in Minnesota may not receive the same protection as a child in Florida due to independent legislatures going in independent directions to resolve this matter. You can even look to the “Digital Bill of Rights” released by Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida, which briefly mentions protecting children, but focuses on advancing his allegations of tech companies censoring conservative voices.
We need to take the right approach to develop a federal standard if we want to avoid a patchwork of data privacy laws, leaving children in certain zip codes unprotected, and others potentially smothered with overbearing laws. Utah is another great of example as to why a calculated approach to addressing children’s data privacy is critical. Utah’s data privacy bill goes as far as banning minors from being online after 10:30 p.m. and before 6:30 a.m. I don’t know about you, but I often found myself burning the midnight oil to write essays in high school. As we work to protect our children, let us also be conscious not to inadvertently restrict access to the internet along the way.
While that legislation may be well-meaning, our leaders must take a moment to think about the impact this legislation can have on traditionally disenfranchised and lower income communities, who already have trouble accessing quality broadband. For example, the data privacy bill in Utah requires everyone to obtain and use a government-issued ID and use their street address to sign up for a social media account, including adults. This is clearly inconsiderate of both adults and children in minority communities who may not have the resources or family infrastructure to obtain a government issued ID.
To be clear, it is not my goal to halt any children’s data privacy legislation. Quite the contrary, as I would love to see our children’s mental health, physical health, and data protected. However, I want to see a federal standard across the 50 states that takes a measured approach and considers all potential unintended consequences to avoid inconsistent and political charged data privacy laws to protect our children.
Bridget Klosterman is a children’s advocate in nonprofit capital management services in Minnesota.