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The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would combat the spread of child sex abuse material online amid a bipartisan push to protect kids’ safety and privacy on social media.
The panel voted unanimously to approve the legislation (S. 1199), which would empower victims of child sex abuse to sue social media platforms that facilitate child exploitation. The legislation would also make it easier for victims to request the removal of child sex abuse material from online platforms, which would affect big technology companies like Twitter Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc.‘s Facebook.
Panel Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the bill’s lead sponsor, encouraged his colleagues on the committee to drum up momentum and help bring the legislation to the floor.
“I can’t think of a measure we could enact that would have more positive impact with families across America — left, right, and center — than to give them these authorities and to create disincentives for those who would abuse and exploit these kids,” he said during the committee markup.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the first Republican cosponsor of the bill, worked with Durbin to adopt an amendment that would strengthen the right of online child abuse victims to bring civil suits against tech companies.
“You want to get social media to reform their behavior? Make ‘em liable,” Hawley said. “That’s what this bill does, so I’m excited about it.”
Also on Thursday, the committee approved two other online safety-focused bills that would crack down on serious privacy violations related to sharing sexually explicit images, including those of children (S. 412), and improve and modernize law enforcement resources to investigate and prosecute online child exploitation (S. 1170). Last week, the panel advanced another related bill, S. 1207, which would push tech companies that promote online child sex abuse material to take responsibility.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have in recent months demonstrated an appetite to shield children from online exploitation and bolster their online safety and privacy, but such measures stalled in a narrowly Democrat-controlled Congress last year.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has previously signaled that establishing greater online protections for minors is important, but hasn’t commented recently on the timing for getting such measures to the floor. A spokesperson for Schumer didn’t respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Hawley called Thursday’s unanimous vote on S. 1199 “kind of a major miracle in the Senate” and urged Senate leaders to get it to the floor.
“That’ll be up to Schumer, you know, it’s his choice,” he added. “But I hope he’ll move it — it’s got broad support.”
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