Gonzales Urges ISPs Data Retention, Banking Help

Michael Hayes
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called upon Congress to require Internet service providers to retain customer records to aid prosecutors in building cases against people who traffic in child pornography.

Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday, Gonzales called the government’s lack of access to customer data the biggest obstacle to deterring child porn.

“This is a problem that requires federal legislation," Gonzales said. “We need information. Information helps us make cases. We have to find a way for ISPs to retain information for a period of time so we can go back with a legal process to get them.”

While Gonzales recognized concerns over user privacy as being important, he said the growing threat against child porn online was too great.

“We respect civil liberties but we have to harmonize this so we can get more information," he said.

In June, attorneys general from 49 states sent a letter to Congress expressing support for federal legislation that would require ISPs to retain user date. Gonzales said he agreed with the various state attorneys general.

The Justice Department took Google to court earlier this year, arguing that the company had no right to refuse law enforcement requests to turnover data that included a sampling of website addresses and Internet search queries.

The government had requested data from a number of ISPs to support its case to preserve the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA). Only Google refused.

U.S. Judge James Ware split the difference, ordering Google to give Justice 50,000 random URLs, but he declined to order the company to provide the government access to 5,000 queries.

Gonzales said that he and FBI Director Robert Mueller have met with executives from several ISPs including AOL, Comcast, Google, Microsoft and Verizon, advising them to prepare to retain records for up to two years.

Current data retention periods, which range from a few days to about a year, are a matter of company policy, not federal law.

During his testimony Gonzales also said he hoped to eliminate child pornography as a commercial crime by 2008 by working in conjunction with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as well as major financial institutions to shut down an enterprise estimated at $1 billion per year.

According to MasterCard Vice President Jodi Golinski, who also testified before the Senate Banking Committee, pressure from financial institutions is already making an impact.

But Gonzales said more work needs to be done, especially in terms of bringing in cooperation from foreign governments, particularly in Eastern Europe and Asia.

"Quite frankly, I think countries need to be doing more," Gonzales said, citing the recent case against Regpay as an example of the international nature of the problem.

According to the Justice Department, the Belarus-based Regpay linked a global network of several hundred child pornography websites with a Florida-based firm that processed credit card accounts.

The Regpay bust has lead to more than 300 investigations in the U.S. and more than 700 abroad, according to officials at Justice.