Senators fret child predators using AI are emerging online safety threat

Senators concerned about children’s online safety fear that artificial intelligence is an escalating danger to America’s youth.

Sens. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, and Jon Ossoff, Georgia Democrat, fear that child predators are creating AI-generated child sexual abuse material. 

New AI tools have made the production of the abuse material nearly instantaneous, and the Justice Department has not prosecuted the responsible predators, according to the senators.  

“While these images may not depict real children, they impede law enforcement efforts to identify real-life child victims,” the bipartisan duo wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland. “In the interest of protecting our most vulnerable citizens from this growing threat, we seek clarity on the Department of Justice’s efforts to address this pressing issue.”

The senators’ letter to Mr. Garland this week indicates that new legislation to protect children from AI danger may be on the horizon. Ms. Blackburn and Mr. Ossoff wrote that they want to create “targeted strategies” to protect children from AI danger, which would require cooperation among law enforcement, tech companies and lawmakers. 

Similar legislative efforts to curb danger to children from Big Tech platforms have stalled in Congress. 

Concerns about online sexual predators and risks to youth mental health from Big Tech led Ms. Blackburn to author the Kids Online Safety Act with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat. 

The legislation requiring social media platforms to prevent and limit harm to children sailed unanimously through the Senate Commerce Committee in July 2022 but stalled on the Senate floor. 

Ms. Blackburn and Mr. Blumenthal reintroduced the Kids Online Safety Act in May, and it has the support of 40 other senators.

The bill sailed through the committee again Thursday, but it faces more hurdles before getting final consideration from the Senate. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, the committee’s top-ranking Republican, supported advancing the legislation but said Thursday the bill needs additional work before the full Senate votes on its passage. 

The Texas Republican said lawmakers should consider adding a provision to keep the legislation from creating new disputes with state laws.   

“Since this committee last marked up KOSA, multiple states have passed laws that may be inconsistent with parts of this bill,” Mr. Cruz said at the committee meeting. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to create a new litigation magnet when we will have the opportunity in advance to solve future conflicts.”

Alongside congressional concerns, children’s online safety legislation faces opposition from privacy advocates. 

The libertarian-leaning R Street Institute says the bill would cause the collection of children’s sensitive data and violate their free speech rights. 

“While the legislation is undoubtedly well-intentioned and directed at protecting children online, the result of passage would be devastating for children and free expression online,” Canyon Brimhall, Shoshana Weissmann and Josh Withrow wrote on R Street’s website Thursday.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on Ms. Blackburn and Mr. Ossoff’s letter.

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