Just a few more columns to go in this long-running series about managing online privacy.
This week, I’m covering pending federal legislation that may or may not result in new laws, but is nonetheless indicative of the complexity of the issues of privacy online.
There are two bills sitting in Congress right now – both called the “Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth Act,” but better known by the shorter “Internet Safety Act” – that, if passed would change the online privacy landscape.
According to Thomas, the legislative information system at the Library of Congress, both bills – the nearly identical Senate Bill 436 and House Bill 1076 – were referred to committees more than a year ago and presumably are working their way through the legislative process.
Ostensibly aimed at protecting children by providing data and tools to clamp down on the distribution of child pornography – according to each bill’s sponsors, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas – the changes the bills would make to current laws would require all Internet service providers to keep access records for two years.
Basically, they are laws for data retention. And that data consist of the Internet protocol addresses of users and the Web sites they viewed. That’s a complex thing to do – collect data and keep it safe for the required two years in the event law enforcement needs it.
Much of that access data won’t easily allow identification of individuals. But one of the issues with this proposed law is the “devil in the details.”
The bills identify an ISP as “A provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service … ” and the data retained are “records of all access.”
The problem with the language is easy to see: What’s a “provider of an electronic communication service?” And what are “records of all access?”
In effect, privacy advocates say the laws would make anyone running a wireless access point liable for data retention. That means anyone or anything using an ISP, such as a coffee shop or a home user with a wireless network.
According to the Electronic Freedom Foundation (www.eff.org), data retention laws have recently been struck down in Europe as violating human rights and privacy. Will those precedents have an influence in this countries legislation?
This week in Mac Q & A: My External Disks are Full