Friday, May 19, 2006

Congress may make ISPs snoop on you

A prominent Republican on Capitol Hill has prepared legislation that would rewrite Internet privacy rules by requiring that logs of Americans' online activities be stored, CNET has learned.

The proposal comes just weeks after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Internet service providers should retain records of user activities for a "reasonable amount of time," a move that represented a dramatic shift in the Bush administration's views on privacy.

Wisconsin Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is proposing that ISPs be required to record information about Americans' online activities so that police can more easily "conduct criminal investigations." Executives at companies that fail to comply would be fined and imprisoned for up to one year.

Until Gonzales' speech, the Bush administration had explicitly opposed laws requiring data retention, saying it had "serious reservations" (
click here for PDF) about them. But after the European Parliament last December approved such a requirement for Internet, telephone and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers, top administration officials began talking about it more favorably.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the
Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, called Sensenbrenner's measure an "open-ended obligation to collect information about all customers for all purposes. It opens the door to government fishing expeditions and unbounded data mining."

One unusual aspect of Sensenbrenner's legislation--called the Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today's Youth Act--or Internet Safety Act--is that it's relatively vague.

Instead of describing exactly what information Internet providers would be required to retain about their users, the Internet Safety Act gives the attorney general broad discretion in drafting regulations. At minimum, the proposal says, user names, physical addresses, Internet Protocol addresses and subscribers' phone numbers must be retained.

That generous wording could permit Gonzales to order Internet providers to retain records of e-mail correspondents, Web pages visited, and even the contents of communications.

[The NSA must be drooling over this one]

Democracy Now! interview with the author of the article Declan McCullagh


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