[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: This is the third report of three on
the wires tonight regarding law enforcement's demands on making
a requirement of two years records from ISPs. PAT]
By Jon Swartz and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
Top law enforcement officials have asked leading Internet companies to
keep histories of the activities of Web users for up to two years to
assist in criminal investigations of child pornography and terrorism,
the Justice Department said Wednesday.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller
outlined their request to executives from Google, Microsoft, AOL,
Comcast, Verizon and others Friday in a private meeting at the Justice
Department. The department has scheduled more discussions as early as
Friday. Last week's meeting was first reported by CNET, an online news
The meetings reflect a new approach by law enforcement in anti-
terrorism efforts. Previously, the Justice Department had invoked the
need for data retention only to battle child pornography. Since the
Sept. 11 attacks, Internet traffic has become increasingly critical to
terrorism investigations, too.
COMMENT: What do you think of the government's plans?
Justice is not asking the companies to keep the content of e-mails,
spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said. It wants records such as lists of
e-mail traffic and Web searches, he said.
Roehrkasse said the government is required to seek proper legal
authority, such as a subpoena, before obtaining the records. He said
any change in the retention period would not alter that
requirement. Law enforcement officials have seen investigations
derailed "time and time again" because of a lack of data, Roehrkasse
The government's request forces the companies to strike a balance
between satisfying law enforcement demands and honoring the privacy of
millions of customers.
"The issue for us is not whether we retain data, but we want to see it
done right," says Dave McClure, president of the U.S. Internet
Industry Association, which represents 150 companies, primarily
Internet service providers. "Our concerns are who pays for it, what
data is retained, and if it is retained legally without violating
federal laws and subscriber agreements."
Lee Tien, a lawyer for the privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier
Foundation, said he was concerned.
"I think that the request raises some really, really major privacy
problems," he said. The Justice Department is "asking ISPs (Internet
service providers) to really become an arm of the government."
The request creates a logistical challenge: Most Internet providers
store data such as Web searches for 30 to 90 days. Storing such
information significantly longer is more expensive, McClure and others
"We strongly support Gonzales' interest in assuring that the Internet
is safe for everyone," Phil Reitinger, Microsoft's senior security
strategist, said in a statement Wednesday that acknowledged the
company's participation in the meeting at Justice. "But data retention
is a complicated issue."
"We believe (data retention and preservation) proposals deserve
careful review and must consider the legitimate interests of
individual users, law enforcement agencies, and Internet companies,"
Google spokesman Steve Langdon said Wednesday.
Gonzales broached the issue of record retention in April during a
speech at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in
Gonzales, who has made fighting child exploitation a prominent part of
the national law enforcement agenda, said the pursuit of child
predators depends on the availability of evidence often in the hands
This isn't the first time Gonzales has gone to Internet companies with
a request related to their records. In March, a federal judge ordered
Google to hand over Web search records requested by Justice as part of
its efforts to shield children from sexually explicit material
online. Google balked at an earlier request, saying it would expose
trade secrets. AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft cooperated with the
government, but they said their assistance was limited and users'
privacy was not violated.
Contributing: William M. Welch
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I dunno about you, but I think if there
was ever a good time to begin using anonymous proxies and/or very
strong encryption, now is that time. PAT]