Durbin Questions Witnesses During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing On Children’s Online Safety

Durbin proposes the STOP CSAM Act, draft legislation to crack down on the proliferation of child sex abuse material online

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned witnesses at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Protecting Our Children Online.”  The hearing examined the challenge of ensuring online child safety and privacy, with witnesses testifying to the risks, threats, and harms that children face in the online world.  Durbin first questioned Michelle DeLaune, President and CEO for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), about the more than 32 million CyberTips that were sent to NCMEC in 2022 concerning child sexual abuse material.  Upwards of 80 percent of those CyberTips—more than 25 million—will be lost as companies adopt end-to-end encryption.  Durbin asked DeLaune to clarify what this meant. 

DeLaune responded that the few companies that are voluntarily seeking out known sexual child abuse material will lose the ability to do so.  She continued that children will still be abused even after the companies “turn off the lights.” She said that NCMEC supports a balanced approach with end-to-end encryption that supports user privacy without using children as collateral damage.  

Durbin then questioned Emma Lembke, Founder of Log Off Movement, a group she started in 2020 to empower youth to tackle the complexities of social media and its impact on younger generations.  When questioning Ms. Lembke, Durbin referenced Dr. Mitch Prinstein’s testimony about adolescents’ interpersonal experiences and psychological symptoms, including depression, self-injury, suicidal behavior, and other health-risk behaviors.  Dr. Prinstein is the Chief Science Officer at the American Psychological Association (APA).

“I’m trying to square this, the possibility of diverting people from conduct, which apparently is almost addictive in its nature and move them to a different level.  Can you comment on that?”Durbin asked.

Ms. Lembke responded that companies can implement safe guards so content they are exposed to doesn’t lead to harm. 

Dr. Prinstein echoed Ms. Lemke’s remarks.  He also stated that the area of the brain that stops us from engaging in impulsive acts, called the prefrontal cortex, does not fully develop until the age of 25.  Dr. Prinstein stated, “From ten to 25, kids’ brains are built in such a way to make them crave the exact kind of content that social media can provide with like buttons and reposts, but they are biologically incapable of stopping themselves from incessant use of these platforms.  That vulnerability is being exploited by these platforms.”

Durbin continued, “The question is whether or not on their own kids can solve the problem.  Do they need help?”  

Dr. Prinstein said that setting boundaries on social media can help, such as reminders telling kids they have been on longer than they intended.  He continued that the signals coming through social media such as likes, reposts, and algorithms that are feeding kids content are making things much worse from a neuroscientist perspective and forcing kids to close out these social media programs could help. 

In the Senate, Durbin has introduced legislation to strengthen online privacy protections for children when websites collect their personally identifiable information.  Earlier this week, he introduced the Clean Slate for Kids Online Act, legislation that would give every American an enforceable legal right to demand that internet companies delete all personal information that was collected from or about the person when he or she was a child under age 13.    

Durbin also has been working on a comprehensive bill to close gaps in the law and crack down on the proliferation of child sex abuse material online: the STOP CSAM Act.  Durbin is releasing a discussion draft of this legislation today, which takes a three-pronged approach that support victims, promotes accountability and transparency by the tech industry, and ensures that offenders will receive sentences that reflect the severity of their crimes.  More information on the STOP CSAM Act can be found here.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.