Senators cry 'child abuse' as they seek to dismantle the Net

Texas Republicans want to require ISPs and hotspot operators to retain user data for two years. The penalty? 10 years in prison.

Is the "Internet SAFETY Act" (otherwise known as S.436 and HR.1076 reallyabout stopping online child abuse? Or is it a way to give copyright holders what they have long been crying for: a legal requirement that ISPs retain user data forever?

At News.com, Declan McCullagh points out:

[The RIAA and MPAA] wrote in a 2005 letter to a committee of the European Parliament that "it is essential that service providers retain the relevant data for a reasonable period and that the data can be disclosed for appropriate purposes."

The law, if passed as proposed, would require not only ISPs but all Wi-Fi access points (that means you) to keep records for two years. This is because the "limitless nature offers anonymity that has opened the door to criminals looking to harm innocent children," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). And the penalty is nothing to sneeze at:

Whoever, being an Internet content hosting provider or e-mail service provider, knowingly engages in any conduct the provider knows or has reason to believe facilitates access to, or the possession of, child pornography...shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

We already know the risk to kids is vastly overstated by forces that want to control the Net. But even though some kids are at risk, does that necessitate the dismantling of a core feature of the Internet?

Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., said the Internet Safety Act would "create new risk" for Internet users and expose them to "possible liability in civil suits and supboena fishing expeditions--it's a terrible idea."

And what's this about hotspots?

Paul Levy, an attorney at the Ralph Nader-founded Public Citizen group who has litigated Internet anonymity cases, says: "I have a Wi-Fi network at home, and I would have no idea how to retain IP information. This has a chilling effect on speaking, the fact that your information remains around for such a long time," Levy said.