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Government Surveillance

How the Data Retention Bill Impacts You – And What You Can Do About It

Recently there’s been talk of the grassroots movement that stopped PIPA/SOPA turning its attention to the House data retention bill, HR 1981. Like PIPA/SOPA, the bill would impose a government mandate on key Internet companies. Groups as diverse as the Tea Party Patriots and ACLU have spoken out against data retention.

HR 1981 was authored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and passed out of the House Judiciary Committee in July. The bill is currently awaiting a floor vote in the House.

Let your Representative in the House and your Senators know you oppose HR 1981, its Senate companion S 1308, and any other data retention mandate.

Why is Data Retention a Threat?

As CDT has repeatedly noted, HR 1981 presents a clear and present danger to Internet users’ privacy rights. In addition, the costs it will impose—especially on smaller companies—could limit access to Internet services.

This is what’s at stake:

1) Data retention would jeopardize your privacy rights

The data retention bills would mandate that ISPs store our IP addresses (and possibly other data) for a year.

The government will then be able to access this information without judicial oversight and match it to IP addresses in websites’ server logs to find out where people go online.

Regardless of whether or not Internet users have actually done anything wrong, the government will be able to recreate our online activities. This completely flips the presumption of innocence—the foundation of our justice system—on its head.

2) The government could access your information for any purpose

HR 1981 is misleadingly named the “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act.” The name is misleading because the government would be able to access the information retained and use it for the purposes of investigating any crime, whether related to child pornography or not.

As Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said at the bill’s markup in July, “This is not protecting children from Internet pornography. It’s creating a database for everybody in this country for a lot of other purposes.”

Further, the FBI could access the retained information with a national security letter when it isn’t investigating any crime at all. In fact, it could secretly access retained information about your Internet activities when it thinks they are relevant to a national security investigation of somebody else.

3) Data retention could raise the costs of mobile data plans

For 3G and 4G wireless service providers, retaining users’ data will be costly. This could translate into more expensive data plans for some customers.

4) Less Internet access

Data retention will be burdensome for small ISPs, which provide service to rural communities that larger ISPs have little economic incentive to serve.

Faced with higher costs, the small ISPs could a) raise prices for users, or b) close up shop. The bottom line is that HR 1981 could lead to less Internet access for some Americans.

(For deeper analysis on how this bill could affect ISPs and other small businesses, see this CDT report.)

5) Limited value

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the mandate is that there is little reason to believe data retention will be effective in prosecuting more child pornography cases.

As CDT wrote in a previous memorandum on data retention:

It is clear that law enforcement agencies already have far more child pornography cases on their plates than they can investigate and prosecute. In other words, even if a vast data retention regime were imposed on American ISPs, and even if data were retained for a lengthy period of time, law enforcement agencies would still not be able to investigate and prosecute more child pornography cases.

Voices of Opposition

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have strongly opposed HR 1981.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) offered an amendment to rename the bill the “Keep Every American’s Digital Data for Submission to the Federal Government Without a Warrant Act.”

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) stated, “[HR 1981] runs roughshod over the privacy rights of people who use the Internet for thousands of lawful purposes [. . .] this bill should be defeated and put in the dustbin of history.”

CDT hopes to work with these Members, and everyone else who has a stake in preserving privacy rights and innovation online, to defeat this ineffective and burdensome mandate.

What You Can Do

Contact Congress. Demand Progress reports that it has received over 90,000 signatures on its petition opposing HR 1981, and EFF is featuring their own petition opposing the bill. Please join the effort and let your elective representatives know that you oppose mandatory data retention.