As House considers data retention, Internet companies have another plan

Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL want to invest in technology to allow the fingerprinting of child porn images, rather than retaining data on all users.

Hours before the opening of a House hearing on whether to require ISPs to retain user data, a coalition of top Internet companies - including AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft but not Google - proposed developing a technological fix to the problem of child pornography, News.com's Declan McCullaugh reports. (Google apparently doesn't have a problem with retaining data.)

Attorney General Alfonzo Gonzales recently pressed for new data retention rules to help law enforcement with child pornography investigations, but the Internet companies say there's no need for legislation that would cost them millions and upset legimitate users' fears about privacy.

One proposal would be to create a shared blacklist of servers with kiddie porn. But a similar law in Pennsylvania was struck down as unconstitutional.

Another leading candidate is hash functions, and Declan's article provides a CS101 explanation. AOL currently uses hash functions to identify child porn and to "fingerprint" it, in case the same images comes through again. AOL sends those images and information about them to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

If all ISPs did the same, that would create a "master list of bad sites or files, or in this case signatures, that all partners can use it to escalate the fight," said an AOL spokesman. "We can [also] look at things like instant messaging and video files and how you track those," he said.

The Electronic Fronter Foundation expressed concern that other, legal content could also be blacklisted if such a system existed. "There's a question about whether people would want to add things other than child pornography to the list," Schoen said. "Is there any way to prevent people from simply suppressing nonchild-pornography-related (images) by claiming they're child pornography?"

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