February 25, 2023

Bill to protect children’s online privacy passes first committee

The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee unanimously passed a bill that seeks to protect children’s privacy online.

SB 319 endeavors to place safeguards into the online world that children venture through everyday.

“The New Mexico Age Appropriate Design Code is a critical step in safeguarding our children’s online privacy that ensures they can navigate the digital world safely and appropriately,” bill sponsor Sen. George Muñoz said. “As a parent and a father I know firsthand knowledge of countless hours spent online by children whether school or entertainment. It’s a scary reality that our children are particularly vulnerable to privately see violations and other dangers when using online services. 

“That’s why the age appropriate design code is vital. It sets out specific requirements for online services to protect children’s privacy, such as disabling location tracking and data sharing to third parties,” Muñoz, a Democrat from Gallup, said.

The bill also seeks to prevent businesses from using personal information gathered from children that could harm the child’s psychologically, physically or mentally when the child uses a service, Muñoz said.

Muñoz introduced expert witness Nichole Rocha, the head of U.S. affairs for youth digital safety organization 5Rights Foundation.

“This still contains three elements that represent a true paradigm shift when it comes to how we look at tech,” Rocha said. “One, it defines children as under 18 years of age and, two, it applies to online products that are likely to be accessed by children rather than those directed at them.”

These products include social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok.

“It would capture these places where we know children actually hang out instead of actually making Sesame Street safer, which we don’t need,” Rocha said. “It also requires protections by design and default, which is incredibly important…They don’t know how to activate these protections.”

Those opposed to the bill said they agreed with the spirit of it but were not enthusiastic with elements of the bill that could harm businesses.

One of those who spoke against the bill was Jason Weaks, a lobbyist for the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Hospitality Association.

“We very much appreciate the intention of this legislation. We do think that it is important to protect children on the internet and regulate how they see the content that they ingest from the phone that they access from their parent or the tablet that they use to play games on,” Weaks said. “However, as drafted, we have some issues with this legislation because we think it’s going to be much broader. We think it’s going to apply to, as drafted, just about every website that we access on a daily basis.”

Weaks and others, including committee members, brought up the litigation involving similar legislation in California.

“In December, a tech industry trade group, NetChoice, whose members include Amazon, AOL, Google, Meta, and TikTok, filed a federal lawsuit to enjoin the California law on the basis the law violates the First Amendment, is unconstitutionally vague, and is preempted by the federal Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA),” the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report states.

The bill’s next stop is the Senate Judiciary Committee.