Tuesday, February 9, 2010

FBI Wants ISPs To Maintain Records Of Every Website You Visit

How far should law enforcement officals be allowed to encroach on your privacy in the fight against crime? What if the crime was child pornography? What if the measure being sought would force ISPs to maintain records of every site you’ve visited for two years?

The FBI is pressing Internet service providers to record which Web sites customers visit and retain those logs for two years, a requirement that law enforcement believes could help it in investigations of child pornography and other serious crimes.

As far back as a 2006 speech, Mueller had called for data retention on the part of Internet providers, and emphasized the point two years later when explicitly asking Congress to enact a law making it mandatory. But it had not been clear before that the FBI was asking companies to begin to keep logs of what Web sites are visited, which few if any currently do.
On the one hand, I think child pornographers are some of the lowest of the low. At the very least I think they should be locked away for a long, long time, and I’m more than willing to entertain notions of much worse punishment. I’m generally inclined to do whatever it takes to help law enforcement catch these people. But there’s another part of me that wonders if we should be so quick to let the FBI or any other law enforcement agency have so much access to our private lives. In cases like this, access can easily lead to control.

I know that some may argue that if one isn’t visting sites one shouldn’t be visiting, one’s got nothing to worry about. My problem with that argument has always been, who decides what sites one shouldn’t be visiting? Certainly, it’s easy to argue one shouldn’t be visiting child porn sites. That’s an easy one. But what happens when those in power push for other sites to be added to the list. Adult porn. Marijuana legalization sites. There are those here who would be okay with even that. But what about Christian sites? Couldn’t an argument be made to restrict religious websites in places where they might offend someone? Public college campuses, for example?

Perhaps you think my slope is less slippery and more fanciful. Maybe, but I don’t generally trust other people with my data easily. It’s far too easy for the controllers to change the rules of the game after I’ve surrendered my privacy. There’s no reason to believe that a law allowing law enforcement to look at a record of your website visits to see if you’ve been looking at child porn won’t one day be used in other ways. It may be too late to take it back by then.

What do you think? Is the measure being pushed by the FBI worth the tradeoff in privacy?

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

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