Advocacy group takes aim at antiporn bill requiring ISP data retention

A bill requiring ISPs to retain IP addresses for a year raises privacy concerns for several groups

One of the advocacy groups that worked to stall the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act in the U.S. Congress has taken aim at a bill that would require U.S. ISPs to retain the Internet Protocol logs of all their customers for a year, in the name of fighting online child pornography.

The Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act, sponsored by Representative Lamar Smith, the same lawmaker who introduced SOPA, seems to be stalled while waiting for action in the full House of Representatives, after the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill in November. But Demand Progress, a liberal advocacy group, has asked its supporters to email lawmakers in opposition to the bill.

Several groups, including the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have raised privacy concerns about the bill.

"ISPs would collect and retain your data whether or not you're accused of a crime," Demand Progress said on its website. "Supporters shamelessly dubbed it the 'Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act,' but our staunchest allies in Congress are calling it what it is: an all-encompassing Internet snooping bill."

The retained records are vulnerable to theft and data breaches, the EFF said on its website.

Government-mandated data retention of "millions of ordinary users is invasive, costly, and damages the right to privacy and free expression," the EFF said. "These requirements compel ISPs and telcos to create large databases of information about who communicates with whom via Internet or phone, the duration of the exchange, and the users' location."

Since early February, more than 102,000 people have sent email messages opposing the bill to lawmakers through Demand Progress' petition site, said David Segal, the group's executive director. The group hopes that some of the people who protested SOPA will take action again this bill as well, he said.

"We want to use the heightened awareness of the post-SOPA moment to make sure lawmakers know that much of the same coalition is willing to mobilize to kill this bill, too," Segal said. "It's already passed committee, and the SOPA loss has Lamar Smith is backed into a corner -- it's hard to know if and when somebody in such a position might lash out.  But we hope that activists' quick pivot towards it will help seal its fate."

The bill has several other provisions related to fighting online child pornography, but privacy groups have objected to the data retention language. Smith, a Texas Republican, has signed up 39 cosponsors, both Democrats and Republicans.

Supporters said the bill will help police track down child pornographers. "Child pornography may be the fastest growing crime in America, increasing an average of 150 percent per year," Smith said back in August, when introducing the bill. "This is partly because investigators do not have adequate tools to track down dangerous pedophiles that prey on the most innocent in our society. Investigators need the assistance of ISPs to identify users and distributors of online child pornography."

Asked about the status of the bill in the House, a spokeswoman for Smith said it's up to the House leadership to schedule a vote. The "majority of the focus from the House right now is on the economy/jobs legislation," she said in an email.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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