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A View from Brad King

AG Gonzales Pushes ISPs to Retain User Records

Citing concerns over child pornography, the U.S. Attorney General is pushing Congress for new ISP legislation.

  • September 19, 2006

It’s for the kids.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, with the support of 49 state attorneys-general, pushed Congress to require Internet Service Providers to retain consumer data in order to help law enforcement officials fight the growing child-pornography industry, according to this Associated Press story.

Obviously, the ISPs are reticent to support any legislation that dictates how they run their businesses–and for good reason. If the Clipper Chip taught us anything, it’s this: the U.S. government is not good at regulating technology and U.S. citizens are none-too-happy with the government requiring it have access to personal information.

Of course, life has changed in the states since September 11. The debate between individual liberties and government necessity has become much fuzzier; but in this case, rejecting this type of legislation seems cut-and-dried.

I’m not making the case that child pornographers should have free reign on the Internet. I think our nation’s laws should be most stringent against those who would prey on the weak and innocent–and I’m fully behind the harshest punishments possible for those who do.

Gonzales’ argument, though, feels like a Straw Man to me. In pushing for more accountability from ISPs, the Department of Justice has said it wouldn’t pursue actions outside of child pornography. However, the government has made similar claims–that it wouldn’t overstep the bounds of its legal jurisdiction–only to turn around and do just that.

From the article:

The subject has prompted some alarm among Internet service provider executives and civil liberties groups after the Justice Department took Google to court earlier this year to force it to turn over information on customer searches. Civil liberties groups also have sued Verizon and other telephone companies, alleging they are working with the government to provide information without search warrants on subscriber calling records.

Where does this leave us? Hopefully, the ISPs and civil liberty groups will develop a sound strategy for working with the Department of Justice that involves court supervision and outside watchdog groups.

Otherwise, we’ve taken yet another bad step toward government control of the Internet.

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