Back in 2006, the U.S. Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, under the Bush Administration, called for new rules that would require ISPs and cell phone companies to collect more data (spy) on all of their users. It’s called Mandatory Data Retention. At the time, there was enough opposition to this idea that it never got far.
Recently, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing to promote this controversial idea once more. Several members of congress have already proposed legislation on data retention, and support for it is coming from both Democrats and Republicans. The Obama administration’s Department of Justice is also expected to support forced data retention.
Currently, ISPs and phone services already keep transaction records for 90 days, in accordance with the 1996 Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act. After 90 days, the records are deleted, and some law enforcement agencies would like to see these records kept much longer.
Since it’s obvious to many that this is another case of Big Brother is watching, how can these politicians justify their call for more intrusion into business’s and customer’s internet and phone traffic?
Most of this call to action is the result of law enforcement and defense agencies wanting longer retention periods, and politicians that want to look like they are tough on internet crime, such as child pornography. However, privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), see it as having bad unintended consequences for user privacy, First Amendment anonymous speech, and ballooning costs for retaining the information.
In my opinion, new laws requiring data retention are going to cause more problems than they solve.
Law enforcement agencies can already ask internet and telecom providers to collect extensive information on suspects. Collecting more data will help law enforcement and Homeland Security catch criminals and terrorists, but these new laws will treat all of us like suspects.
The collected information will seriously clamp down on anonymous speech and whistle blowing. Do you trust the government to stop itself from trying to track down sources of leaked information or people who voice strong anti-government or opposition party speech?
Government and law enforcement won’t be the only ones able to access this data. How many websites are hacked every day? How many government agencies have data stolen from them? We’ve already seen what’s happened with WikiLeaks and government employees who get fooled into giving out information.
It will also make simple visits to legal sites more ominous. Would you want everyone to know you’d visited a site about STDs, mental health, bankruptcy, adult entertainment, or any other normally private topic.
Civil courts will be able to get access to this information. It could be used in divorce cases, to prove infidelity. It could be used in law suits to prove prior knowledge or associations.
The internet and telecom providers can handle the additional open-ended costs of mandatory data retention, since those costs will be transferred to the consumers. It will be the same as a new hidden tax. Smaller businesses, and start-ups may not be able to bear the added costs, thus reducing innovation, and killing competition with the big internet companies.
In summary, new data retention laws would be good for big government, law enforcement and big business. They would be bad for the average joe consumer, free speech and free association. If you don’t agree (or you hate freedom), you have the freedom to comment below.