The Return of Data Retention

by on February 20, 2009 · 8 comments

And so begins another fight over data retention. As Declan summarizes:

Republican politicians on Thursday called for a sweeping new federal law that would require all Internet providers and operators of millions of Wi-Fi access points, even hotels, local coffee shops, and home users, to keep records about users for two years to aid police investigations. The legislation, which echoes a measure proposed by one of their Democratic colleagues three years ago, would impose unprecedented data retention requirements on a broad swath of Internet access providers and is certain to draw fire from businesses and privacy advocates. […] Two bills have been introduced so far — S.436 in the Senate and H.R.1076 in the House. Each of the companion bills is titled “Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth Act,” or Internet Safety Act.

Julian also has coverage over at Ars and quotes CDT’s Greg Nojeim who says the data retention language is “invasive, risky, unnecessary, and likely to be ineffective.”  I think that’s generally correct.  Moreover, I find it ironic that at a time when so many in Congress seemingly want online providers to collect and retain LESS data about users, this bill proposes that ISPs be required to collect and retain MORE data. One wonders how those two legislative priorities will be reconciled!!

Don’t get me wrong. It’s good that Congress is taking steps to address the scourge of child pornography — especially with stiffer sentences for offenders and greater resources for law enforcement officials. Extensive data retention mandates, however, would be unlikely to help much given the ease with which bad guys will likely circumvent those requirements using alternative access points or proxies.  Finally, retention mandates pose a threat to the privacy of average law-abiding citizens and impose expensive burdens of online intermediaries.

We’ve had more to say about data retention here at the TLF over the years.  Here’s a few things to read:

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