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New bills seek to end internet anonymity

The topic of ISP data retention came up once again in the halls of Congress. A new bill, known as the “Internet SAFETY Act,” seeks to compel ISPs and anyone who hosts a Wi-Fi access point to log all information that could identify users, in order to assist police investigating child pornography.

Known formally under the full title “Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today's Youth Act,” the Internet SAFETY Act is actually two companion pieces of legislation – one working its way through the Senate as S.436, and the other through the House as H.R.1076. Their sponsors are Senator John Cornyn and Representative Lamar Smith, and both are republicans hailing from Texas.

“While the Internet has generated many positive changes in the way we communicate and do business, its limitless nature offers anonymity that has opened the door to criminals looking to harm innocent children,” said Cornyn in a Thursday press conference. “Keeping our children safe requires cooperation on the local, state, federal, and family level.”

Both bills are virtually identical, and contain the same language. “[Providers] of an electronic communication service or remote computing service” will be required to retain “all records … pertaining to the identity of a user of a temporarily assigned network address” for two years.

Observers interpret the law to mean anyone who runs a network that assigns users a temporary IP address, internal or external – which would cast ISPs like AT&T in the same lot as coffee shops and corporate networks using DHCP.

CNET notes that both the U.S. Department of Justice’s position and legal definition of “electronic communication services” line up with this interpretation.

“Law enforcement officials had a chokehold on child pornography before the Internet exploded,” reads a Dallas Morning News editorial penned by Rep. Smith. “Perpetrators relied on the postal service to traffic their trade, and, by the end of the 1980s, postal investigators were winning the battle.”

“But the Internet changed everything. Now criminals can view pictures, download videos and watch the live molestation of a child. Pedophiles have, in effect, found a safe haven online.”

Citing the imagery of a TV crime drama, Rep. Smith wonders: “How many times have we seen TV detectives seek call logs of a suspect in order to determine who he has been talking to? What if the telephone companies simply said to the detectives, ‘Sorry, we get rid of that information after 24 hours’?”

 Increased data retention favors a completely different set of suitors as well, says Electronic Privacy Information Center director Marc Rotenberg: the music and movie industry. Such a bill would “create new risk” for web surfers and peer-to-peer users, spawning legal fishing expeditions and lawsuits.

“It's a terrible idea,” said Rotenberg.

Perhaps spurned on by privacy advocates’ calls for service providers to have a shorter memory – a call that many have listened to – or the death of COPA, it appears the Internet SAFETY Act is the latest in a series of anti-child-pornography initiatives seeking to lift the veil on internet anonymity.

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Average joe
By Quijonsith on 2/23/2009 11:43:04 AM , Rating: 3
According to the article this bill would require any private citizen running a wireless network to maintain a two year log of all access activity. The average joe owning a wifi router doesn't even know how to lock out unwanted access.

I can drive down my street right now and find atleast a third of the wifi connections unencrypted. How exactly do lawmakers expect these same people to setup and maintain access logs?

I see this law as ultimately unenforceable. Comparing this to the same as phone companies keeping call logs isn't a fair comparison. Private citizens don't provide widespread phone access.

RE: Average joe
By Screwballl on 2/23/2009 11:58:27 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed... I was going to post this same point but I see you already did.

Also most residential routers do not have a logging function, and most coffee shops use the same routers that you and I use at home. I have seen quite a few of these coffee shops using a router using DD-WRT and even that does not have a full logging feature (I use DD-WRT myself at home with my locked down wireless network).

RE: Average joe
By HighWing on 2/23/2009 12:42:00 PM , Rating: 2
exactly what I was thinking.

So what happens when they track the pedophile as war-driving through neighborhoods to get his/her wi-fi access? When most home routers do not even have a logging feature, and the ones that do definitely do not store logs for anywhere near two years, what are law makers going to do then? Arrest the person who's router was tapped without their knowledge just because they didn't even know they were supposed to, or how to keep the logs of that info?

One more example of how higher policing causes more crime and only punishes the normal law abiding citizens.

"This is about the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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