FBI Director Calls for Mandatory ISP Data Retention

Michael Hayes
BOSTON — Joining the chorus of federal officials eager to require Internet service providers to retain user data, FBI Director Robert Mueller told a conference of police officials that the practice will be an invaluable tool in law enforcement’s efforts to combat terrorism and online sexual predators.

Mueller spoke at a conference for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which approved a resolution in support of the Bush administration’s call for ISP data retention earlier in the day.

In September, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called on Congress to create national legislation that would require ISPs to retain user data.

"All too often, we find that before we can catch these offenders, ISPs have unwittingly deleted the very records that would help us identify these offenders and protect future victims," Mueller said. "We must find a balance between the legitimate need for privacy and law enforcement's clear need for access."

Gonzales and 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. However, the 1996 Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act mandates that ISPs retain records for 90 days “upon the request of a governmental entity.”

Mandatory data retention for ISPs without a law enforcement request is expected to be a key issue for Congress’ legislative agenda in 2007.

According to a CNET News report, Justice Department officials have said privately that the issue is too controversial to be raised before the 2006-midterm elections in November.