Chapell & Associates

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Republican Politico Endorses Data Retention

CNET - May 05, 2006
A key Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives plans to find a way to force Internet providers to keep records of their customers' activities, an aide said Friday. The aide said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who chairs the House committee responsible for writing Internet and telecommunications law, has pledged to work on legislation related to mandatory data retention--a concept recently endorsed by the Bush administration as a way to crack down on child pornographers.

The Chapell View
Now, I'm not saying that I advocate Representative Edward Markey's (D-MA) proposed alternative, but the impetus behind this proposed bill isn't all that clear to me. In fact, it seems the opposite extreme: instead of requiring businesses to delete a great deal - if not all - of the data they collect, ISPs would be required to retain customer information for at least a year.

The bill, an amendment to a broader telecommunications bill being debated, was written by Representatvie Diana DeGette (D-CO) with the ostensible goal of combating child pornography. Now, this is hardly a position that can be argued with. But there doesn't seem obvious reason why this should require ISPs to retain customer information for a year after the customer leaves their service. Moreover, according to CNET, a broad reading of the amendment might require just about any website to retain and store this sort of customer information.

As Congress debates a new and updated Telecommunications Bill - the first since 1996 - many provisions are likely to deal directly with the internet and online privacy. It's worrisome, however, that recent legislative proposals dealing with consumer privacy have taken one extreme (required deletion) or another (required storage). Online privacy is always a matter of balancing business - and government - needs against consumer interest. Markey's bill went too far in the latter direction, while DeGette's does just the opposite. As Chapell & Associates has noted before, collected data is often easily accessible by the government which is of course the intention of this very amendment.

As things stand, telecommunications law generally specifies that ISPs - like most telecommunications companies - must retain information for a limited period of time, and only upon government request. Perhaps this is restricting the government's ability to prosecute certain offenders. But there are definite risks associated with the broad collection and storage of consumer data, something that seems to have gone missing in the DOJ's (and now, Congresses') drive to have such data available to them as needed.
posted by Isaac on Wednesday, May 10, 2006

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