Telecommunications Policy

DOJ Wants to Make ISPs Keep Data on Your Internet Use


Politico reports that the Justice Department wants Congress to make Internet service providers store data about their users for a specified length of time to facilitate federal investigations:

Current law doesn't require those Internet service providers to "retain any data for any particular length of time," although some already do, said Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general at the DOJ's Criminal Division. And many wireless companies — which must collect some data — also "do not retain records that would enable law enforcement to identify a suspect's smartphone based on the IP address collected by websites the suspect visited," he noted in prepared testimony.

That's why Weinstein urged the Senate Judiciary's Privacy, Technology and the Law subcommittee on Tuesday to consider data-retention legislation as it weighs new privacy efforts in the digital age. The top DOJ official said such a congressional fix would boost the agency's ability to investigate privacy breaches, prosecute other digital crimes and ferret out abuses in the offline world.

"Those records are an absolutely necessary link in the investigative chain," Weinstein told the panel.

I don't doubt that the information could be useful to government investigators. Does that fact justify forcing companies to retain it? Such a mandate goes beyond the customary assistance that businesses are required to give in response to a court order. As with the Clinton administration's Clipper chip proposal, the defunct ban on exporting strong encryption software, and the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (a.k.a. CALEA, which requires telecom companies to make their networks tap-friendly), the government wants to arrange the world to make life easier for law enforcement agencies. Once we accept this demand as legitimate, the only question is how to "balance" privacy interests against the enhanced security promised by unimpeded policing—an inherently subjective judgment that tends to favor the government, since cops can always cite concrete examples of how they would use their new powers for good, while the negative implications seem vague and hypothetical.

Opponents of the Clipper chip, an encryption system with a government-held key that the Clinton administration wanted to mandate for telecommunications, used to ask whether we should all be forced to hand over our house keys to the local police, just in case they need them, or keep our window blinds up at all times to facilitate government surveillance. If those demands are unreasonable, why is it OK to insist that our ISPs keep track of us and save the records, just in case the government wants them? The argument for CALEA was that the government just wanted to keep the capability it historically had to listen in on phone conversations upon obtaining a warrant. Yet the statute now applies to email and other forms of communication that did not exist when wiretap law was developed. Likewise the DOJ's new legislative proposal. Why assume that Internet users must be trackable simply because phone lines used to be tappable?

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  1. Good news everybody!

    I’ve invented a way for all of the data, favorite websites and e-mails and so forth, generated by your usage of the internet to be stored forever and made easily accessible by the government.

  2. Thank goodness we finally have a president that cares about civil liberties.

    1. Hey, we’re all gonna miss that War on Terror someday.

    2. Osama got Obama

      1. Ok..Obama got Osama. Don’t want to get called a racist.

  3. FTDOJ

  4. So, it’s a race to develop seasteading before the current governments close the frontier of the internet.

  5. The increasingly inaccurately named Department of Justice.

  6. Let me be clear, this is a crucial stage in winning the future.
    Now to get on top of this Playstation Network issue.

  7. If the DOJ has an investigation then let them do it themselves. Don’t let uninvolved 3rd parties work to help them. It’s the same as making me patrol the street 2 hours a day after my neighbor gets robbed. Why do I have to work when I have nothing to do with it?

  8. If the DOJ has an investigation then let them do it themselves. Don’t let uninvolved 3rd parties work to help them. It’s the same as making me patrol the street 2 hours a day after my neighbor gets robbed. Why do I have to work when I have nothing to do with it?

  9. GNUPGP is da bomb

    1. Come to think of it we should all start posting our keys and then making encrypted comments…nahh.

      1. encrypted messages just prove you have something to hide, citizen. so you will be taken in for questioning.

  10. Does anyone know the big ISPs’ current policies on retention of this data?

    1. An executive with U.S. cable operator Comcast Corp. told lawmakers on Tuesday the company will hold on to Web address records for a longer period of time under a new policy to help law enforcement.

      Comcast Vice President Gerard Lewis said at a House of Representatives hearing that Comcast would retain records on Internet protocol addresses assigned to computers connected to its network for 180 days, up from 31 days under its current policy.

      If this helps answer your question.

      1. Thanks for approving the merger, guys! Just a little token of our appreciation.

  11. Net Neutrality will fix this.

    1. I think all government problems can be solved with more government

  12. This will create another “Universal Service” charge on your bill at the end of the month to fund a service that will be used to incriminate yourself in a court of law.

  13. I’m sure Rockwell was talking about The Man.

  14. Government can never get too big or powerful or intrusive. You have no right to privacy in the face of national security and law-enforcement requirements. Large corporations serve the government first and foremost. We finally have an administration that fully understands this. %OBAMA 2012% — “OBAMA KILLED OSAMA”

  15. Obama.Whokilledosamaobamawhokilledosamaobamawhokilledobamaosamawhokilledosamobama. OMBAMA 2016.

  16. Hm, they tried to do the same thing in Europe last year. After passing through all the European and national legislative processes, the law was struck down as unconstitutional by the Romanian and German Constitutional Courts 🙂

    The law was promoted at fisrt as useful for fighting terrorism, but later on the music and film industries also wanted to use it for fighting copyright infringements.

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