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Senate committee pauses on bill to require social media companies to report fentanyl activity

WASHINGTON — A key Senate committee temporarily paused on taking up a bill that would require social media companies to report illegal fentanyl activity on their platforms to law enforcement.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was originally scheduled to take up the Cooper Davis Act on Thursday, but the Chair said it is being held over due to ongoing negotiations about the bill.

“I want to state for the record these are active negotiations,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I know this has been held over several times, but it is for a good purpose. We’re trying to build a consensus or close to it to support this important legislation.”

The bill is named after a 16-year-old from Kansas who died from a counterfeit pill laced with fentanyl that a friend bought through Snapchat.

“This is a crisis and sadly our children do not know what they’re up against,” said Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS), the Republican sponsor of the Senate bill. “If our nation is going to win this fight, we need Big Tech companies to crack down on drug dealers pushing this poison on their platforms to vulnerable teenagers like Cooper Davis and thousands of others.”

“Tragically, we’ve seen the role that social media plays in that by making it easier for young people to get their hands on these dangerous drugs – we have to put a stop to it now,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the Democrat sponsor of the Senate bill.

Supporters of the bill say it’s needed to help stop the illegal sale of fentanyl online.

“It’s been at least 29 states where we’ve been able to track a social media drug dealer who sold a pill, a fake pill, that’s killed their customer,” said Shabbir Imber Safdar, Executive Director for the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM). “It’s a really big problem and there’s a lot more we and the platforms can be doing about it.”

The group strongly supports the Cooper Davis Act.

“All this does is say when a social media platform discovers drug dealing, instead of silently terminating the user, they let the DEA know because when they silently terminate the user and they make a new account, they can possibly and will likely end up killing somebody else,” said Safdar.

But the measure is facing pushback from critics who argue it could lead to unchecked surveillance of everyday people, with social media companies handing over their online activity to law enforcement.

“The issue here is the lack of protections provided around that transfer of information,’ said Cody Venzke, Senior Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “There’s no notice provided to the user. Data has to be preserved indefinitely.”

The ACLU argues while Congress should take steps to address the fentanyl crisis, legislation about it should be within its constitutional authority.

“This bill would deputize social media platforms, email providers, platforms of all stripes to be informants for government agencies,” said Venzke. “There is the concern that they would absolutely be incentivized to over-report.”

Venzke also said while the bill applies to fentanyl, methamphetamine, and counterfeit substances, it could also be amended to include more if it were to pass into law.

It’s unclear when the Senate Judiciary Committee may take up the bill again.

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