While everyone was distracted with the hullabaloo surround the artificial “debt ceiling crisis”, Congress did manage to get some work done. Unfortunately that work was in furtherance of eroding your right to privacy. Thursday, July 28, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee submitted a bill (H.R. 1981) under the politically motivated and misleading name Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011, which was quietly lobbied for by conservative Republicans and the Department of Justice, voted in committee to advance regulations requiring Internet service providers to retain your account information. This information preserved would include not just your IP address, but customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers and bank account numbers as well. The Judiciary Committee approved this bill in a 19-0 vote, rejecting a last minute amendment that would have required the retention of IP addresses only by 7-16.
It is helpful to note there is a distinction between “data retention” and “data preservation”. ISPs regularly destroy log records no longer required for business purposed. However, under the existing Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act, ISP’s can be required to retain log files or any record in their possession for up to 90 days at the request of a governmental entity. This data preservation policy would require ISPs to keep all log files and records related to commercial Internet accounts for 18 months. As this requirement would not apply to non-commercial accounts such as public access provided in Internet cafes and public libraries, any intelligent criminal could simply avoid logging by going to a public access point or by hacking into an improperly secured wireless network while the Internet traffic of individual law-abiding account holders across America would be recorded. As Rep. John Conyers (D – MI) succinctly put it, “The bill is mislabeled. This is not protecting children from Internet pornography. It’s creating a database for everybody in this country for a lot of other purposes.” Criticism of the bill came from both sides of the aisle with Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R – WI), the previous chairman of the House Judiciary committee, noting “I oppose this bill. It can be amended, but I don’t think it can be fixed… It poses numerous risks that well outweigh any benefits, and I’m not convinced it will contribute in a significant way to protecting children.”
Given that the Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act already provides for data retention upon request and the Protect Our Children Act of 2008, requires any ISP that “obtains actual knowledge” of possible child pornography transmissions to “make a report of such facts or circumstances” and backs that requirement with a $150,000 fine for the first offense and up to $300,000 for each subsequent offense, does H.R. 1981 do anything to further protect children or is it simply an invasion of your privacy and erosion of your rights that serves no legitimate governmental interest not already met by existing law? What do you think?
~Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger