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ISPs Will Face More Fed Heat

The Bush administration is considering asking Internet service providers to retain more data in hopes of cracking down on child pornographers. The ISP industry, however, thinks the idea isn't only impractical, but also that it's being made a scapegoat.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last week proposed legislation to increase criminal penalties against ISPs that don't report child porn if they find it on their systems. More significant, he suggested the government may ask ISPs to hold records longer and make them more accessible to police and prosectutors. "Unfortunately, the failure of some Internet service providers to keep records has hampered our ability to conduct investigations in this area," Gonzales said last week in a speech at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Such talk gets the ISP industry fuming. "I'm not aware of any criminal investigation that's been hampered by an ISP," says David McClure, CEO of the U.S. Internet Industry Association, which represents ISPs. ISPs generally keep records for 30 to 60 days. Anything more--such as keeping records for a year--would be too expensive, a big security risk, and probably impractical to search, he says. The industry thinks what works is "data preservation"--having police come to an ISP with a court order to keep all data on a specific person who's under investigation.

Access to Internet records is controversial: The Justice Department battled Google in court over search data it wanted in order to defend a law aimed at keeping kids from seeing porn. In that case, the administration cast a wide net, asking more than 30 ISPs, search companies, and filtering-software vendors for information.

Given how effectively criminals are exploiting the Internet to sell child porn, expect the Justice Department to be even more aggressive in this quest.

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