Citing Child Porn, Congresswoman Pushes ISP Data Retention

Matt O'Conner
WASHINGTON — Stating that Internet service providers have hampered online pedophilia investigations by routinely dumping user data, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., is preparing to propose an amendment to a pending telecommunications bill that would require ISPs to retain data on users so that law enforcement could access the information.

“America is the No. 1 global consumer of child pornography [and] the No. 2 producer,” DeGette said. “This is a plague we had nearly wiped out in the ‘70s, and sadly, the Internet, an entity we practically worship for all the great things it has brought to us, is being used to commit a crime against humanity.”

While the amendment might be added to the bill, scheduled for a floor vote this week, DeGette admits the language is broad and open to interpretation.

For example, the measure says any service that “enables users to access content” would have to retain user records for as long as a user has an account as well as at least one year after the user’s account is closed.

Such language could be interpreted to mean every website must retain user records, since they all give users access to content. According to the latest draft of the amendment, it would be up to the Federal Communications Commission to decide who must retain records.

It’s unclear whether the measure itself would have much support in the House, but attaching it to the telecommunications bill, which deals primarily with Internet neutrality and has broad support, means it would have a high likelihood of passing, especially since U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has come out in support of such an idea on behalf of the Bush Administration.

Kate Dean, director of the U.S. Internet Service Provider Association, said the argument behind the measure — that ISPs are hindering investigations — simply isn’t true; in fact, ISPs routinely comply with law enforcement in child porn investigations, she said.

Others have raised privacy rights questions. Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, said the amendment opens the door to unchecked FCC surveillance.

“The result will be privacy that goes away and doesn’t come back,” he said.

The issue is further complicated by the secret information-gathering powers granted to the government under the U.S. Patriot Act.

According the Associated Press, the FBI last year secretly collected information on 3,501 U.S. citizens based on Internet records.