Congress Tells ISPs to Expect Comprehensive Anti-porn Bill

Michael Hayes
WASHINGTON — After testimony before the House Energy and Commerce committee, Internet service providers were told to expect new legislation that would force them to retain data about their users in the name of preventing the spread of child pornography online.

Despite urgings from AOL chief counsel John Ryan — who told Congress that legislation would be expensive, easily circumvented and would “fall far short of its intended goal” — lawmakers signaled that the time had come for them to intervene.

``The parents of America, and I think the Congress, are tired of just talking about it,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, said. “I think we're ready to take action.''

Barton’s warning came before a panel that included representatives from Yahoo, Google and Microsoft.

Although no specifics were provided, Barton said he planned to develop a comprehensive anti-porn bill after his committee finished its hearings.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who is in the process of drafting a bill that would require ISPs to keep certain customer-identifying records for one year, has called the lack of an industrywide standard a hindrance to authorities investigating child porn cases.

EarthLink keeps customer records for seven years; Comcast retains similar records for 31 days, although the company said it plans to expand its archiving procedures to 180 days starting Sept. 1.

In response to growing Congressional scrutiny, five ISPs — AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, EarthLink and United Online — announced plans to develop a child pornography database and other tools to aid authorities in stopping the distribution of illegal material over their networks.

While ISPs have made strides to aid authorities, the prospect of new legislation does not sit well with lawyers for the companies.

General counsel for Verizon Online Thomas Daily said that the focus should be on improving existing child porn laws, not on “new mandates.”

Google drew the ire of lawmakers, who displayed printouts of search queries for “pre-teen,” “sex” and “video” that yielded 2.9 million results.

“We do the best we can,” Google associate general counsel Nicole Wong said.

Wong went on to explain that the company had failed to tag the hyphenated version of the term “pre-teen” with a red flag, but she said, that was an aberration that Google had corrected.