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Tuesday
Jan252011

House Considers Mandating Internet Data Retention For Crime Solving

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Criminal investigations are “being frustrated” because Internet providers are not required by law to retain information on what their customers are doing online, the Department of Justice testified before a House hearing Tuesday.

“The gap between providers retention practices and the needs of law enforcement can be extremely harmful to investigations that are critical to protecting the public from predators,” Justice Department Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein told a House Justice Committee hearing on “data retention as a tool for investigating internet child pornography and other Internet crimes.”

“The lack of adequate, uniform and consistent data retention policies threatens our ability to use the legal tools Congress has provided to law enforcement to protect public safety,” he said.

While some Internet providers voluntarily retain user data for months or years, others do not retain data at all. Under current law, officers can issue subpoenas, court orders and search warrants to require an Internet service provider to hand over user data. The problem, Weinstein testified, is that “those authorities are only useful if the data is still in existence at the time the government seeks to obtain it.”

Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, agreed. “When law enforcement officers do develop leads that might ultimately result in saving a child or apprehending a pornographer, their efforts should not be frustrated because vital records were destroyed simply because there was no requirement to retain them. Every piece of discarded information could be the footprint of a child predator,” he said.

Other committee members and the Internet Service Provider Association expressed concern, however, that retaining Internet data could infringe on users’ privacy. 

“A data retention mandate would raise a number of serious privacy and free speech concerns… Congress should be very hesitant to require service providers to create databases to track the Internet activities of 230 million innocent Americans,” said John Morris, General Counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Florida Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz reiterated “this is not about watching or tracking people’s behavior online…it’s about helping law enforcement connect the dots.”

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