Urges U.S. Senate to "Tread Carefully" on Working Child Online Privacy Law
WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, The Progress & Freedom Foundation's Berin Szoka added a series of responses to the Congressional Record to supplement his oral and written testimony before the Senate on the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) at an April 29, 2010 hearing.
At that hearing, Senators asked whether COPPA could be improved. In his response to the Committee's post-hearing questions, Szoka again urged lawmakers to "tread carefully" because COPPA, as implemented, basically works. He noted that COPPA's technological neutrality and flexibility should allow the FTC to keep pace with technological convergence and change without the need for legislative changes. But expanding the statute beyond its limited purposes, especially to cover adolescents under 18, Szoka explained, "could raise serious constitutional questions about the First Amendment rights of adults as well as older teens and site and service operators, and also have unintended consequences for the health of online content and services without necessarily significantly increasing the online privacy and safety of children."
The Committee's follow-up questions also inquired about COPPA's implementation, the subject of today's FTC Roundtable. Szoka noted that COPPA implementation has gone reasonably well, meeting its primary goal of enhancing parental involvement in children's online activities, but that implementation has come at a price, "since the costs of obtaining verifiable parental consent and otherwise complying with COPPA have, on the one hand, discouraged site and service operators from allowing children on their sites or offering child-oriented content, and, on the other hand, raised costs for child-oriented sites." In his view, the FTC could do more to lower compliance costs for website operators, thus allowing achievement of COPPA's goals at a lower cost for parents and kids in foregone content and services.
Finally, Szoka posed important process concerns about the FTC's seeming invitation for changes to the COPPA statute itself. "As a general matter," noted Szoka, "regulatory agencies should not be in the business of re-assessing the adequacy of their own powers, since the natural impulse of all bureaucracy is to grow." Though the agency has done a yeoman's job of implementing COPPA, ultimately "it is the responsibility of Congress, not the FTC, to make decisions about modifying the statute..."
Szoka's responses are available on the PFF website. Szoka is available for comment. Please contact Mike Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. PFF is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.