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Privacy concerns rise about Florida law requiring proof of age to join social media


Florida's governor last week signed into law a ban that would keep kids 13 and under from joining social media. It's set to take effect next January, and it would also require a parent's consent for a 14- or 15-year-old to hold a social media account. While it doesn't specify which platforms qualify as social media, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis says it's meant to protect children.


RON DESANTIS: You know, you can have a kid in the house safe, seemingly, and then you have predators that can get right in there into your own home. You could be doing everything right, but they know how to get and manipulate these different platforms.

RASCOE: The association NetChoice is among the critics that oppose the law on constitutional free speech grounds. They filed multiple lawsuits to try to block similar legislation from California to Arkansas. And they argue that Florida's law and others that resemble it could actually compromise private information. Carl Szabo is the vice president and general counsel for NetChoice. Welcome to the program.

CARL SZABO: Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: So why does your group believe that a law that the supporters of it say it's meant to protect kids - why do you think that it could actually put them at risk?

SZABO: So essentially, what we're seeing under this law is a complete prohibition or a prohibition only with parental consent for anyone under the age of 15 to create a social media account in the state of Florida. And anyone who's ever gone out and bought anything that requires a driver's license and an age verification knows if you are going to ban access, you have to check the IDs of every single adult who claims to say that they are over 15. So what we are actually going to see is a massive data collection on every single Floridian trying to use social media. We are talking about data collection of some of our most sensitive personal information - things like driver's license numbers, social security numbers, passports and other things to prove that you are who you say you are and you are the age you claim to be.

RASCOE: And so is your concern, then, that by giving that information that, because we live in an age of hacking and things of that nature - that the information would not be secure?

SZABO: Yeah. I mean, when data is consolidated in huge honey pots of information, especially the most sensitive data, it attracts bad actors and data thieves. This is the very data that we are entering when we fill out our annual tax filing. And forcing businesses to collect this information and requiring Floridians to hand it over to them is not only bad policy. It will have horrible repercussions for privacy and data security of all Floridians.

RASCOE: But what about those who say - you know, I'm a parent. I don't want to allow my child to be on social media. I have lots of reasons for that. Are you removing a parent's right to choose what's best for their child?

SZABO: So I'm a parent. I've got two kids. When they turn 13, we'll have a conversation of whether they should or should not be on social media. But this new law actually denies Florida parents the right to have that conversation, and then it goes further when it forces me as a parent to prove that I am the guardian of my child. And it's another privacy challenge that is being foisted on every single Floridian parent who may want to allow their child on social media.

RASCOE: And so what will social medias have to do to comply with this law?

SZABO: Yeah, I'm not sure they can, quite frankly. I mean, there's the old adage of, you know, on the internet, no one knows you're a dog. Well, that's actually being turned up to a thousand here with this law because not only do I have to verify who you are and your age. I have to verify every time you log in you are who you say you are and that you are the age you claim to be.

RASCOE: So what can parents do who are concerned about their children being exposed to things online that are harmful?

SZABO: Yeah, that's the real question that needs to be discussed because no law, no government, no technology can ever replace parents. If we decide we don't want our children on social media, we need to have that conversation. If we decide we don't want them on social media late at night, we can take away the phones and store them in our bedrooms. And there are lots of tools available on the devices today or through the internet service providers or wireless providers that we as parents can activate so that they can be the arbiters of what is best for their families and their children.

RASCOE: Carl Szabo is with the association NetChoice. Thank you so much for joining us.

SZABO: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ RYOW'S "PHANTOM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.