California Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (C), D-Irvine, speaks about state legislation combating fentanyl poisoning in Irvine, Calif., on April 28, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
State lawmakers are looking to target the online sale of drugs through social media platforms—and to help slow down the spread of fentanyl—by requiring greater transparency and accountability from social media platforms operating in California.
Assembly Bill 1027
—introduced by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine)—would require such platforms to disclose their policies for keeping records of users’ online communication, specifically those flagged for drugs, and the sharing of such information related to drug distribution. The bill aims
to help law enforcement agencies better combat the sale of illegal drugs online and “address [the] fentanyl crisis,” according to a July 6 press release from Ms. Petrie-Norris announcing the bill.
The bill passed the Assembly and is currently making its way through the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“This drug is ravaging our communities every day. Kids are dying. We need to ensure that our law enforcement partners have every tool they need to fight this epidemic. It is clear that this crisis is urgent and immediate action is vital,” said Ms. Petrie-Norris.
The bill largely aims to target the sale of fentanyl amongst other illicit drugs, as nearly 70 percent
of all drug overdose deaths in 2022 involved synthetic opioids—mostly fentanyl—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the office of Ms. Petrie-Norris, drug dealers are taking advantage of the anonymity of social media sites to target underage and homeless youth.
People whose friends and family members died of fentanyl poisoning protest outside of the Snap, Inc. headquarters, makers of the Snapchat social media application, in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 4, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
“For instance, some social media platforms have chat settings designed to erase chat history after just a few hours. This makes it incredibly difficult for law enforcement to track and prosecute online fentanyl traffickers,” the press release reads.
The new bill would require social media platforms retain for at least 90 days any online user’s communications, or content, that is in violation of such platforms’ policies against the sale or distribution of illegal drugs.
Under the proposed new law, all social media platforms would be required to have their policies posted online for retaining users’ online communications, as well as the procedures for sharing such information.
Additionally, such platforms would be required to submit a monthly report to the California Attorney General’s office regarding accounts flagged for the sale of illicit drugs.
Platforms that fail to do so will be subject to fines not to exceed $190,000 for the first violation and no more than $380,000 for subsequent violations.
Fentanyl victim photos are displayed in Santa Ana, Calif., on April 24, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
The bill is opposed by ACLU California Action and the Electronic Frontier Foundation—an international non-profit digital rights group—according to the Senate Committee on Public Safety’s July 3 bill analysis. The Foundation stated there are several reasons why people may wish to have their personal conversations deleted quickly. Examples given include conversations about sexual orientation or seeking abortions or transgender treatments that are illegal in some states.
The group said that requiring such platforms to scan and save content in violation of the platforms policies could also pose a threat to end-to-end encryption, which ensures secure communication between two parties.
“Requiring that platforms scan actioned content may as a practical matter mean that platforms will not let people use end-to-end encryption because it would interfere with scanning,” a letter from the nonprofit reads.
They further wrote that retaining such information under a government mandate “undermines people’s control of their own personal conversations.”
The bill has passed several key hurdles in the California State Legislature, including a unanimous vote of 77–0 by the Assembly on May 22 and a 4–0 vote by the Senate Committee on Public Safety on July 10.