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Bill to Protect Minors Online Passes Senate, Moves on to Assembly

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

protect minors online Tomislav Konestabo /

Despite opposition from major Internet companies like Facebook and Google, the California Senate passed a bill on Thursday that would require social networking sites to remove identifying information from a user's online profile at the request of the user or -- in the case of a minor -- at the request of a parent. The bill, SB 501, was approved with a 23-10 vote.

SB 501, authored by Senate Majority Leader Ellen M. Corbett (D-San Leandro), requires social networking sites to comply with requests to remove sensitive identifying information like addresses, telephone numbers, bank account numbers, a registered user's Social Security number, and mother's maiden within 96 hours. Companies that fail to comply would face a fine of $10,000 for each offense.

“SB 501 empowers social networking website users—as well as parents of vulnerable minors using those sites—with a straightforward way of removing highly sensitive personal information from those websites,” Corbett said in a statement. "This common sense legislation covers only a specific list of sensitive personal information that serves no public benefit and, if improperly disclosed, endangers the safety of minor and adult site users.”

Corbett said the purpose of the bill is to protect California residents from crimes that can be committed by the wrong person obtaining the information, such as identity theft, stalking, kidnapping, and assault. She also noted that the legislation had strong support from law enforcement agencies and officials across the state.

“I cannot imagine why anyone would oppose the right of a parent of a 13-year-old child to request the prompt removal of that child’s social security number or home address from a social networking site," she included in her statement.

A coalition of social networking companies, including Google, Facebook, Tumblr, and Zynga, lobbied against the bill, saying it violates the free speech and privacy rights of teenagers. In a joint letter, the coalition said the law would "upset teenage consumers' expectation of privacy and 1st Amendment rights by allowing others to regulate their expression and content."

The companies also argue that the requirements the legislation imposes are unreasonable because it would be difficult to authenticate a request and verify the user is a California resident within the 96-hour time frame.

While supporters of SB 501 say it upholds the idea that technology -- especially social networking sites -- should encourage responsible parenting and not hinder it, opponents side with the Internet firms.

Among the dissenting votes was Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine), who said companies run the risk of losing ten grand every time a request is made, even if they apply their best efforts to comply with the law. Opponents of the bill, including Anderson, believe more time should be given to respond to requests from users or parents.

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