Justice started its witch-hunt for search records in January of this year, marking an aggressive move on the part of the Bush administration to revive the infamous Child Online Protection Act.
But now U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is saying that the reason for the records request is to aid in the fight against terrorism.
Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller have conducted meetings with some of the leading ISPs, including AOL, Google, Microsoft and Verizon, requesting that they retain data for two years in support of future prosecutions against alleged terrorists.
Gonzales reportedly has acknowledged Justice’s backtracking on the issue, but has made it emphatically clear that help from the major ISPs is essential in stomping out terrorism.
However, Justice’s attempted claim on user data has not been an easy battle to win, particularly with privacy advocates insisting that government access to user information and online behavior is a direct violation of the 1st Amendment.
In defense of user privacy, Google took the matter to heart when Justice first requested access to user data earlier this year, resulting in a legal spar that Google lost and was ordered to grant Justice access to a portion of its website index.
According to a DOJ spokesperson, the data retention request only involves records pertaining to email trafficking and search records, and Justice would require a subpoena to obtain such information. In addition, the ISPs would be stuck footing the bill for increased storage capacity and securing the data. For companies like Google, one of the most heavily trafficked search engines in the world, data retained over a two-year period could be extremely costly, experts warn.
"The issue for us is not whether we retain data, but we want to see it done right," said Dave McClure, president of the U.S. Internet Industry Association, which represents many Internet service providers. "Our concerns are who pays for it, what data is retained, and if it is retained legally without violating federal laws and subscriber agreements."