What if I told you there was a bill that would make it easier for law enforcement to stop child pornography and protect children, would you be for it. What if I told you that there was a bill that forced ISP to retain their customer names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers and temporary assigned ISP addresses. What would you think of that bill. Well, what you say if I told you it was all the same bill, well it is. The House Judiciary Committee passed HR 1981- The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011. If this bill passes the full House and Senate and becomes law it would require ISPs to keep 12 months worth of personal information. Anyone with access to the information would be able to tell what web sites you visited and what content you posted on-line. Those who support the legislation say it will help law enforcement fight child pornography, because there will be a semi-permit record to follow and the pornographers will not be able to hide their tracks. Those who oppose the legislation including the EFF say it assumes that everyone is guilty and that it erodes the rights of everyone online.
Of course the title of this bill, makes being against it difficult. What nobler cause is there then being against child pornography. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is so easy to give up rights in the name of security or to protect a vulnerable group, it is a path we should only take if absolutely necessary. There are already various laws and technologies that deal the same issue including the 2008 “Protect Our Children Act” which already requires ISP’s to report any time they have actual knowledge of possible transmission of child pornography. If this bill does become law and once the data is collected don’t be surprised if other interest including the RIAA and the MPAA will begin to want access to this same data in their ongoing fight against piracy.
Not only does this bill erode users rights and privacy, but it puts a burden on the ISPs to not only maintain those records, but to protect that information from hackers. Recent history has shown that this is very difficult and costly. Larger ISP can handle the cost, smaller ISPs may not have the means to handle the burden. This may lead to less choice for the consumer in the long run Also the more tech savvy pornographers will find ways around the system by using Tors, open wi-fi, bots and other methods. The question becomes how much privacy and rights of the innocents are we willing to give up to maybe stop the guilty.