America’s Worst Internet Bills of 2023, So Far

America’s Worst Internet Bills of 2023, So Far

2023 has been a doozy of a year for anyone keeping their ear to the ground on technology-related legislation. In just seven months, numerous US states have passed age verification laws and parental content requirements for kids to access social media which would have been impossible to imagine only a few years prior. TikTok, possibly the most important app for sharing culture and discovering content, has already been banned in one state and Congress is gunning for it federally. Other bills up for consideration could fundamentally nuke end-to-end encryption.

The good news is that most of the examples listed above either haven’t passed into law yet or are guaranteed to go through rigorous legal fights in courts. How courts rule on those cases later this year and next year could set the baseline for future tech policy. Counterintuitively, ruling against legally dubious laws could actually make it more difficult for cynical lawmakers or surveillance-obsessed wanna-be Stalins to push forward similar legislation.

Below are just a few of the worst internet bills proposed or passed this year. The list will almost surely grow larger.

The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA)

Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

Just about everyone agrees more should be done to limit young people’s exposure to the internet’s most harmful material, but solutions for how exactly to do that can quickly devolve into a dangerous surveillance grab bag. Maybe the best example of this is the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) proposed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). In theory, the wide-reaching legislation would pressure platforms used by people under the age of 16 to adhere to a so-called “duty of care” to prevent the promotion of content depicting self-harm, substance abuse, bullying, or other harmful material linked to an increase in teen depression.

KOSA has received fierce and frequent backlash from dozens of rights groups who say its broad vision would unintentionally limit access to sex education and LGBTQ content and encourage platforms to increase data collection on young people. A coalition of more than 90 rights groups including the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Fight For the Future signed a letter saying it would have “​​damaging unintended consequences for young people.”


Photo: Win McNamee (Getty Images)

Like many of the bills on the list, the STOP CSAM [Child Sexual Abuse Material] Act has noble intentions. It intends to strengthen existing legislation criminalizing the sharing or harmful sexual content of children which has seen an uptick in recent years. Opponents, however, like the EFF and Fight For the Future warn it’s a Trojan Horse intended to weaken end-to-end encryption.

Existing law already prohibits the distribution of CSAM material. This bill would go a step further and make it illegal for “interactive computer services” to knowingly host or store child pornography. Encryption advocates worry this overly broad expansion will make platforms liable to civil suits if users on their platform are found to have sent potential CSAM material to other users. That constant risk of debilitating litigation would make platforms less likely to support any encryption at all, which opponents say would make all internet users worse off and welcome government overreach.

Age Verification Laws Pop Up For Accessing Adult Content

Photo: Leon Neal (Getty Images)

Earlier this year, Louisiana passed a new age verification law that would force companies that host “adult content” to check users’ ages against a driver’s license or other form of government identification. More than half a dozen mostly conservative states have followed Louisiana’s lead.

The laws are ostensibly intended to ensure minors can’t access pornographic material but opponents to the legislation like the Free Speech Coalition argue the bills are ineffective, unnecessary, and a blatant violation of the First Amendment. Worse still, privacy activists warn the legislation could unintentionally lead to firms gobbling up reams of private identification data that could be exposed to vulnerabilities.

Pornhub, one of the largest websites impacted by these laws, has begun to fight back. In early July, the porn megasite announced it would pull out of Mississippi and Virginia entirely in order to avoid complying with the states’ age verification laws.

FISA Section 702 Reauthorization

Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

Civil liberties organizations and privacy experts have tuned their noses up at 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) since it was first added to the legislation in 2008. In a nutshell, Section 702 authorizes the collection and dissemination of communications of non-US citizens located outside the country but it also collects torrents of communications from US citizens who happened to communicate with contact. Opponents of the “incidental collection” as it’s called say it amounts to a loophole for federal agencies to collect Americans’ communications without a warrant.

Section 702 is on the list because it is set to expire at the end of the year if lawmakers don’t vote to reauthorize it. Congress historically isn’t exactly quick to relinquish control of powerful national security tools, but experts believe this year could be different due to a growing fashion of Republicans who’ve become die-hard opponents of federal agencies. It also doesn’t help matters that FISA was reportedly used to spy on a former Trump aide.

The RESTRICT Act Brings Bipartisan Support For a TikTok Ban

Photo: Samuel Corum (AP)

Republican lawmakers have yelped about banning TikTok nationally over supposed national security threats for years now but the increasingly prescient policy issue finally gained bipartisan political support this year with the introduction of the RESTRICT Act by Sens. Mark Warner, a Democrat, and John Thune. The proposed legislation would give the Secretary of Commerce the ability to ban digital products or services from China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela that involved “information and communication technology.” Though the RESTRICT Act isn’t specifically limited to TikTok, most agree the Chinese-made app is its primary target.

Opponents of the RESTRICT Act, like the American Civil Liberties Union, say it would give the executive branch broad authority to ban large platforms where millions of people gather to communicate. This, they say, could pose profound violations to Americans’ right to free speech and access to information.

UK’s Updated Security Bill

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Short-sided internet safety bills aren’t just limited to the United States. The most recent example of that is the United Kingdom’s proposed updates to the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) 2016. The new additions under consideration would require messaging service providers to clear new security features with the government’s Home Office before rolling them out to users.

Apple recently pushed back against the move, arguing it would give the Home Office the power to control its security and encryption practices all around the world. Pulling out the big guns, Apple threatened to remove FaceTime and iMessage from the UK if the provisions end up making their way through. Others like Meta-owned WhatsApp and Signal have also said they would rather cut off access than compromise their end-to-end encryption.

Montana’s Legally Dubious TikTok Ban Could Set a Precedent

Photo: Thom Bridge/Matt Slocum (AP)

While politicians in the House and Senate were busy pursuing their own half-baked effort to ban TikTok nationally, Montana broke new ground and voted to ban TikTok on all devices within its state. The first-of-its-kind law bans app stores like Apple’s and Google’s from offering downloads of the massively popular short-form video platforms. App stores found to have violated the law can face a $10,000-per-day fine. TikTok has already filed a suit seeking to overturn the ban on First Amendment grounds as have a group of Montana creators who rely on the app for their livelihoods.

NetChoice general counsel Carl Szabo previously told Gizmodo he believes the first-of-its-kind state-wide TikTok ban is a clear violation of TikTok’s First Amendment rights and amounts to a bill of attainder laws that criminalize a specific person or individual and punishes them without a trial. Bills of attainder are blatantly unconstitutional.

EARN IT Act, The Surveillance Bill That Refuses to Die

Photo: Darren McCollester (Getty Images)

Some controversial tech policies keep popping back up year after year like a zombie that just refuses to stay dead. One of those is the EARN IT Act, which would remove Section 230 liability protections for tech platforms if they are found to have knowingly let their users send child sexual abuse material (CSAM.) Like the Stop CSAM Act, opponents believe this widening of legal liability would disincentivize platforms from providing any types of end-to-end encryption which could fundamentally alter the notion of privacy on the internet.

“Weakening encryption is probably the premiere gift you could give to predators and god-awful people who want to stalk and spy on kids,” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said at a Fight for the Future event earlier this year. “It threatens the privacy and security of every single law-abiding American.”

Utah Enacted a Social Media Bedtime Law

Photo: Proxima Studio (Shutterstock)

Utah isn’t the only US state seeking to require parental consent for minors to use online sources but it is one of the few setting mandatory digital bedtimes for kids. Yes, in addition to requiring age verification for users under the age of 18, the bill will also prohibit those young users from accessing social media sites between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.

Photo: Logan Riely (Getty Images)

An assortment of bills requiring parental consent for minors to access certain internet services have picked up pace across the country but few are as far-reaching as Texas’ recently passed Securing Children Online through Parental Empowerment Act. The bill, recently signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott, will require “digital service providers” to first obtain the consent of a parent or guardian before allowing a user under the age of 18 to open an account.

That requirement applies to social media firms, but the broad phrasing of “service providers” appears to apply that same parental consent requirement to a wide array of other online services that simply require users to create accounts. Tech companies opposing the legislation like Meta and Google have said it would force them to collect sensitive new data on minors to verify their ages. It would also give parents wide latitude to cut off the types of content teens see, which could harm LGBTQ users or other vulnerable users.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

It’s the most popular NBN speed in Australia for a reason. Here are the cheapest plans available.

At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.