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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What's wrong with wanting to know more about you?

Last week I wrote about how the Bush Justice Department, under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, wants a federal law mandating that internet service providers (ISPs) retain data records for a "reasonable amount of time." Gonzales claims that law enforcement needs such a law to track pedophiles and child abusers.

Well, as Cranky Insomniac favorite Declan McCullagh of CNet News reports, Democrats in Congress have wasted no time telling Gonzales that law enforcement's already got all the tools it needs to track sexual predators of children, and that they will not stand for a blatant attempt to violate the privacy of 'net users under the guise of protecting children.

Um, wait...no, that's not quite right:

...[I]n a demonstration of bipartisan unity, a Democratic member of the Congressional Internet Caucus is preparing to introduce an amendment--perhaps during a U.S. House of Representatives floor vote next week--that would make such data deletion illegal.

Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette's proposal (click for PDF) says that any Internet service that "enables users to access content" must permanently retain records that would permit police to identify each user. The records could not be discarded until at least one year after the user's account was closed.

It's not clear whether that requirement would be limited only to e-mail providers and Internet providers such as DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable modem services. An expansive reading of DeGette's measure would require every Web site to retain those records. (Details would be left to the Federal Communications Commission.)

"We're still addressing some of the issues, and we will have those issues or answers before we introduce this as either an amendment or a standalone bill," Brandon MacGillis, a spokesman for DeGette, said in an interview on Friday.

Yes, the same folks who are upset that the NSA might be datamining your phone calls and emails to see if you've kept up your college friendship with al-Zawahiri are now proposing legislation to make it easier for the government to track your web surfing habits. Only in America.

In my post last week I said:

It's long been true that when a politician or bureaucrat starts talking about "the children," you'd better keep a sharp eye on your wallet. Unfortunately, after years of using this alibi to get away with robbing the American people of their money, they've recently figured out that this same excuse can be used to rob the American people of their freedom.

Here's DeGette, explaining why her amendment is necessary:

America is the No. 1 global consumer of child pornography, the No. 2 producer. This is a plague we had nearly wiped out in the seventies, and sadly the Internet, an entity that we practically worship for all the great things it has brought to us, is being used to commit a crime against humanity.

I'd love to see the data that backs up those figures, but I'll bet they're as real as Candyland.

However, let's say they're accurate: In order to know that "America" is the largest consumer of child porn in the world, you have to know how many Americans are consuming child porn. (I know that's obvious: stick with me.) Now, in order to know how many Americans are consuming child porn on the internet, you have to have a way of collecting information about how many Americans are consuming child porn on the internet. In order to collect such information, you must have the ability to count the number of Americans who are consuming child porn on the internet, and in order to do this, you need a list off which you can count. And if you have such a list, you've got IP addresses. And if you've got IP addresses, you've got home addresses.

And if you've got home addresses, you don't need another law to help you track these people down! And the same holds true for producers of kiddie porn. In order to make the claim that we're the number 2 producer of this stuff (and I resent the notion that we're number 2 at anything, by the way) you have to know how much is being produced in America. And so on, and so on, until you've got a list of websites that host child pornography.

The truth is, no matter how it's portrayed, DeGette's proposal is nothing but a blank check for the feds to take a look at your surfing habits for any reason:
Critics of DeGette's proposal have said that, while the justification for Internet surveillance might be protecting children, the data would be accessible to any local or state law enforcement official investigating anything from drug possession to tax evasion. In addition, the one-year retention is a minimum; the FCC would receive the authority to require Internet companies to keep records "for not less than one year after a subscriber ceases to subscribe to such services."

Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the free-market Cato Institute, said: "This is an unrestricted grant of authority to the FCC to require surveillance."

"The FCC would be able to tell Internet service providers to monitor our e-mails, monitor our Web surfing, monitor what we post on blogs or chat rooms, and everything else under the sun," said Harper, a member of the Department of Homeland Security's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee. "We're seeing a kind of hysteria reminiscent of the McMartin case. The result will be privacy that goes away and doesn't come back when the foolishness is exposed."

But don't worry, privacy nuts:

"Our main concern on the bill is privacy, protecting the privacy of everyone out there on the Internet, but also retention of those records so law enforcement officials will have access to them, so we just need to really tinker with the language," [DeGette spokesman] MacGillis said.

Yeah, right. This is the old "If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about" routine. Yes, we're going to force your ISP to retain its records of every website you've ever been on, but don't worry: as long as you're not a child molester nobody's going to look at them. Unless, of course, you're falsely accused of being a child molester, or the government thinks you're growing marijuana in your closet and decides that it needs to see if you've hit any sites that tell you how to do that, or the government wants to know if you wrote that blogpost criticizing it for wanting new laws to better allow it to check up on your reading habits...


Blogger Paul said...

Ugh. These nanny tendencies are my biggest gripe with the Dems. Senators Clinton and Lieberman often lead this charge. You'd think conservatives could be counted on here, but they still seem under the sway of the ever-expanding Administration. Bad news all around for American's "official" rights (we know that in reality the law would be redundant since a secret surveillance apparatus already exists).

22:13  

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