I write today about HB 901. We appreciate the intent of sponsors to enact policies that protect Marylanders, especially children and teenagers but are concerned how the bill may impact Maryland schools and, more broadly, the rights of minors in the state. We are hopeful that policymakers will continue to work to refine language so all rights of Maryland children are protected.
Accessing educational information, along with things like news and entertainment, is a right established by Article 13 in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which is referenced in the preamble to HB 901. As the Convention states, a child “shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”
We are concerned that certain provisions in this legislation, as currently written, may unnecessarily prevent access to critical information and harm the well-being of Maryland’s children. Requirements to choose the well-being as defined by the bill versus other interests such as the right to access information may lead to businesses taking steps to mitigate legal risk and aggressively block online content no matter the newsworthiness, appropriateness, or educational value of the information.
In a worst-case scenario, Maryland’s children may fall behind other children in the country if they are left without access to factual information online to develop critical skills and knowledge to become fully engaged citizens after they turn 18. Skills for adulthood and the workforce require access to the internet and, while this bill attempts to foster the growth of an internet that does that, it unfortunately misses the mark.