How the new 'Protecting Children' bill puts you at risk

How the new 'Protecting Children' bill puts you at risk

Summary: A bill now makes the online activity of every American available to authorities upon request under the guise of protecting children from pornography.

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Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives' judiciary committee passed a bill that makes the online activity of every American available to police and attorneys upon request under the guise of protecting children from pornography.

Note: Update with citizen petitions on page 2.

The Republican-majority sponsored bill is called the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011.

It has nothing to do with pornography, and was opposed by over 30 civil liberties and consumer advocacy organizations, as well as one brave indie ISP that is urging its customers to do everything they can to protest the invasion of privacy.

"Protecting Children" forces ISPs to retain customer names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and dynamic IP addresses.

It's like having your wallet plus the web sites you visit tracked and handed over on request. These logs are now going to be retained for the scope of one and a half years.

(I have to wonder if ISPs can sell this data, too.)

This has nothing to do with porn. In case you're like the Reps that passed this nightmare and you've forgotten: pornography is legal in the United States.

It is pedophilia that is illegal. But for the sake of harnessing hysteria to get a bill passed, clearly these particular Republicans find it convenient to conflate "pornographers" as pedophiles. Last time I checked in on the matter, pedophiles did not operate within the laws surrounding adult pornography.

Personally, I'm insulted as a porn-loving American girl to be included by way of consumer participation in this disgusting and misleading characterization. And that my privacy has just been sold for something that doesn't actually help the children.

I don't feel confident that treating us all like the criminals our system can't catch is going to protect any children, especially when the people who passed the bill can't - or won't - distinguish the difference between legal adult pornography and pedophilia.

CNET's Declan McCullagh reminds us that "the mandatory logs would be accessible to police investigating any crime and perhaps attorneys litigating civil disputes in divorce, insurance fraud, and other cases as well." CNET reported that mandatory data retention was being fast-tracked in January, 2011.

The fact that civil litigants could subpoena your internet activity and the contents of your wallet has nothing to do with the labeled and stated purpose of this bill.

"The bill is mislabeled," said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the panel. "This is not protecting children from Internet pornography. It's creating a database for everybody in this country for a lot of other purposes."

However, this bill has a provision stating that a court does not need to approve administrative subpoenas used by U.S. Marshals who might use it to 'track down unregistered sex offenders.' This received strong arguments against giving Marshals too much power.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation spearheaded consumer and privacy groups' opposition to the bill and hosted a one-click letter-writing campaign. This included the ACLU, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Patient Privacy Rights and many more.

Because of the way the bill requires information to be collected and stored, the EFF called the bill "ripe for abuse by law enforcement officials" and said that because the laws designed to protect the private data of consumers from government access are insufficient and out-of-date, it creates "a perfect storm for government abuse."

Page 2: [Small ISPs react; How you can protect yourself from the snooping bill]  »

Small ISPs Are Ringing The Alarm

While consumer groups opposed it and tech news outlets I trust are spelling out concerns, it was when my own ISP made a blog post that it was clear that this bill isn't just a problem for privacy proponents.

Sonic.net's CEO Dane Jasper personally posted Help us, protect your privacy online.

Today we retain most IP allocation logs for just two weeks; we don’t need them beyond that period, so they are deleted. Storing logs longer presents an attractive nuisance, and would potentially make our customers the target of invasions of privacy.

Any lawyer can simply file a Doe lawsuit, draft up a subpoena and request a customer’s identity. It’s far too easy.

Do the wheels of justice – or investigation – move too slowly, and should data be retained for a long time to allow for legitimate investigation? No, there are already tools in place that law enforcement can easily use to ask ISPs to preserve log information of real online criminals.

The 1996 Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act allows law enforcement to require an ISP to keep data for 90 days upon law enforcement request, giving time for a legitimate search warrant to be reviewed by a judge and issued.

The CEO points out that because the bill applies to commercial providers, naturally it won't catch people pursuing criminal activity, who can simply use public Wi-Fi.

Or 4G wireless, such as through a cell carrier.

Lifehacker points this out in What You Need to Know About the Internet Snooping Bill (and How You Can Protect Yourself):

One nice feature of the PCFIPA of 2011 bill is that it doesn't include cellular data, so if you've thought about switching to 4G wireless data at home you'll soon have another reason.

That's right: wireless carriers are exempt from having to store all your data and provide it on notice. This is likely because unlike small ISPs such as Sonic, wireless carriers lobbied the bill authors to get out of it.

The Department of Justice fought against the mobile exemption.

Obviously if someone is going to distribute pedophilia they could do it over a 4G wireless card just as easily as their DSL account, so in a certain context, the wireless carriers have lobbied their way out of the cost burden.

That also makes this bill anti-small business, because smaller ISPs like Sonic have to bear the costs, while Verizon and friends, don't.

I think that ultimately, the ones bearing the true costs will be us.

And don't give me that 'if you're not doing anything wrong you shouldn't worry' line. It's as ripe as Congressman Weiner's old line, 'my account was hacked.'

UPDATE: There is now a Change.org petition against the internet snooping bill - Repeal H.R. 1981: Protect our privacy and lives. The EFF also has a one-click email campaign you can use to alert your representatives.

Photo by Engin Erdogan, under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license, via Flickr.

Topics: Legal, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

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353 comments
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  • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

    I think this article is overrated.

    In Europe we already keep dynamic to customer identification track records. I believe in general and worldwide this record tracking is mandatory.

    This identification information is available to law enforcing agencies after a judicial order of release, and only that way.

    What we do not keep is what customers traffic actually is, I this I believe none, nowhere is doing and would be a flagrant violation of privacy.

    Even WiFi hot spots are required, and if not would be required to, keep identification records. Check London act for instance.

    So what exactly as changed with this new act ? The name ? Dismissal of judicial/ court order ?
    KillerDAN
    • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

      @daniel.bernardo@...

      You obviously haven't read "Industrial Society and it's Future". If you had you would realize that freedom is taken away a bit at a time. Technology forces a compromise from freedom. Then another. Then another. Then eventually there's nothing left to compromise and freedom is completely gone. It's like that old saying about how if you want to boil a frog you turn up the heat gradually because that way he won't realize he's being boiled. The same principle is made clear in "Animal Farm". Change for the worse is gradual and then before you know it you're living in total servitude.
      josh92
      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        @josh92 What you say is true, but still it does not apply. You have to be accountable. Internet is and cannot be a new wild west frontier where everyone is completely anonymous to do whatever they think of.
        You have to be passible of identification.
        What we cannot have is a "Minority Report" world where you are found guilty beforehand doing anything.

        Being able to identify you, if required, and tracking, registering and logging anything and everything you do beforehand is what is not acceptable.
        Apart for the "chocking" name, I see nothing new here.
        KillerDAN
      • You're not making a strong case ...

        @josh92

        .. when you start by invoking the Unabomber as your source.
        RationalGuy
      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        @josh92 The most amazing thing that, unlike Animal Farm, which was directed against communism, is that the current legislation was introduced by the Republicans - alleged ardent supporters of the rights of the individual. Oh well. I guess that the Republicans now stand for corporate America.
        Mahegan
      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        @josh92
        Technology does not force freedoms to be compromised; overzealous politicians do. Corporations and governments (which are becoming more and more like corporations) are being given more and more freedoms, while the people are losing them piecemeal.
        Liath.WW
      • Message has been deleted.

        JohnVoter
      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        @Mahegan Did you read the article? Corporations are either fighting this bill or lobbying hard to be exempted from it. The cost of storing all this data and responding to requests is not trivial.

        The interest that the Republicans are serving is "overzealous law enforcement". Also, "lazy law enforcement" since it will make it much easier for them to investigate and dig up dirt on whomever they target.
        Jay Cagey
      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        @Mahegan

        How does this bill make Republicans or Democrats "stand for corporate America" or were you just regurgitating a talking point?

        This bill requires corporations like Comcast and AT&T to spend more money to develop solutions to securely protect and retain records for 18 months. Have you priced SAN storage and computer systems recently? They don't grow on trees.

        I think this bill is a stepping stone to something worse, but I also think your comment was baseless and would welcome an explanation on how you tie a bill about Child Porn to being for 'corporate America'.
        fireman949
      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        Internet is and cannot be a new wild west frontier where everyone is completely anonymous to do whatever they think of. You have to be passible of identification. <a href="http://www.affordabledegrees.com/ADA/mp.asp">master degree program</a> | <a href="http://www.affordabledegrees.com/ADA/ap.asp">associate degree program</a> | <a href="http://www.affordabledegrees.com/ADA/dp.asp">doctorate degree program</a> | <a href="http://www.affordabledegrees.com/ADA/hp.asp">high school diploma</a>
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      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

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      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        @josh92
        Thanks for the Great Reply Then eventually there's nothing left to compromise and freedom is completely gone.
        <a href="http://www.kivasystems.org/">Robot News</a>
        jawadsatti11
      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        The fact that civil litigants could subpoena your internet activity and the contents of your wallet has nothing to do with the labeled and stated purpose of this bill.<a href="http://www.plsqltutorials.com/">PL SQL Tutorial</a>
        michealyjhon
    • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

      @daniel.bernardo@... No offense but I stopped reading after "In Europe". We are in the United States where we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. This isn't Europe and we (aren't supposed to be) socialist. This spits in the face of what America is.
      JT82
      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        @JT82 This has nothing to do with socialism idiot. I did not know that the Patriot act was passed by France, Oh wait...
        Tommy S.
      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        @JT82 None taken and please don't take anything for the following: This just shows how ignorant you are of what goes on in Europe, and any other part of the world for that matter.
        Innocent until proven guilty is not exclusivity of USA, Same thing applies here in Europe in socialist or non socialists states for that matter.
        Do you think that your ISP does not know when you connected what what time ? And they do keep records for this, have no question about this.
        What they do not, or supposed do not, is track what your do and with whom. Same thing here. What changes ?
        KillerDAN
      • Message has been deleted.

        UrNotPayingAttention
      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        @JT82
        If you think you are innocent until proven guility you've never dealt with the IRS. More and more its guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.
        law_n_disorder
      • RE: How The New 'Protecting Children' Bill Puts You At Risk

        @JT82 you think you are more free in the good old usa
        last time i was there (2008 ) it seemed that your tv adverts were all drug company propaganda all your legal profession were ambulance chasers and as for politics well it looked like you could buy anyone and anything. we may have a lot of problems in europe but please remember we are the home of democracy and the freedoms you do still have come from a law based on ours (uk )
        alive1@...
      • Perhaps there is a misunderstanding

        @JT82 "Europe" is not particularly more socialist than the United States. Britain is also in Europe. Innocence until proven guilty is a feature of many of the criminal codes of Europe. Really, what one has to get one's head around is that the Republicans introduced this Bill, people voted Republican, and in a democracy such as America's - that's that. You can always work for repeal. Perhaps, just perhaps, the issue is that the Republicans represent undemocratic interests, like corporations. The point of the snooping is probably more to do with keeping the Patriot Act alive, and 'protecting children' is being used as a trojan horse. After all, the rhetorical question "shouldn't we be protecting our children?" only has one answer.
        Mahegan