Firms Wary About Holding Customer Records
Jun 2, 3:50 AM (ET)
WASHINGTON (AP) - The head of the FBI says Internet companies should
retain customer records for two years to help the federal government
investigate not only porn but also terrorism.
Law enforcers and industry representatives were expected to meet
Friday, a week after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director
Robert Mueller first raised the issue with executives from several
Internet service providers, including AOL, Comcast Corp. (CMCSA),
Google Inc. (GOOG), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Verizon Communications
Top U.S. law enforcement officials have told Internet companies they
must retain customer records longer to help in child pornography and
terrorism investigations, and they are considering asking Congress to
require preservation of records.
"We are looking at whether requiring longer data retention or asking
ISPs to do it informally is something we want to pursue," Assistant
Attorney General Rachel Brand said Thursday.
The subject has prompted alarm from some executives and privacy
advocates, especially after Gonzales' Justice Department took Google to
court earlier this year to force it to turn over information on
customer searches. Civil liberties groups also have sued Verizon and
other telephone companies, alleging they are working with the
government to provide information without search warrants on subscriber
Brand said some executives have raised privacy concerns. But she said
Gonzales has not made any decisions about how to proceed and that the
department would be mindful of privacy.
Mueller suggested a period of two years and said terrorism
investigations also would be helped by such a rule, several people who
attended the earlier meeting said. Gonzales was focused on child
pornography cases, they said.
Any proposal would not call for the content of communications to be
preserved, would keep the information in the companies' hands and could
be obtained by the government through a subpoena or other lawful
process, Brand said.
Several companies said they work hard to protect children online and
often cooperate with law enforcement.
"But data retention is a complicated issue with implications not only
for efforts to combat child pornography but also for security, privacy,
safety, and availability of low-cost or free Internet services,"
Microsoft said in a statement.
In a statement, Google said, "Any proposals related to data require
careful review and must balance the legitimate interests of individual
users, law enforcement agencies and Internet companies."
The meetings are an outgrowth of Gonzales' interest in beefing up child
porn investigations, some of which he said have been hampered by
Internet companies' failure to retain records long enough.