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House May Light ISP Data Retention Fire

U.S. Representative Diana DeGette lit a fire under the smoldering issue of data retention for Internet service providers (ISPs).

In the House Commerce debate over a telecom reform bill last week, the Colorado Democrat offered an amendment to require ISPs to retain information about subscribers for at least one year.

"The goal is to help law enforcement identify perpetrators when evidence is discovered connecting an account to the production and/or distribution of child pornography," she said. "Law enforcement agencies are desperate for more technological assistance in their work to eradicate the trade of online child sexual abuse."

DeGette's comments follow those of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales two weeks ago calling for a similar measure.

"The investigation and prosecution of child predators depends critically on the availability of evidence that is often in the hands of Internet service providers," Gonzales said. "This evidence will be available for us to use only if the providers retain the records for a reasonable amount of time."

DeGette ultimately withdrew the amendment, but a spokesman for her office said Monday DeGette is considering offering the amendment again when the telecom reform bill hits the full House for a vote or putting the initiative up as a single bill.

"We're still working on it as either a bill or an amendment," Brandon MacGillis said.

Under the 1996 Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act, ISPs are only required to keep subscriber records for 90 days if requested to do so by the government.

"Dealing with this issue will not be easy. Issues of privacy and the openness of the Internet are ones we all care about," DeGette said.

"But the same things we love about the Internet and cutting-edge technology are the same things that have allowed a despicable trade to thrive. We need to work together to figure out the best way to handle this."

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), one of Washington's most powerful tech trade association voices, was one of the first to signal concerns over the proposal.

"[ISPs] routinely cooperate with criminal investigations, and industry stands ready to work with the Department of Justice to address any concerns directly," ITAA Vice President Mark Uncapher said in a statement.

"However, any legislation must balance the risk that mandated storage poses to sensitive personal information and financial information."

Uncapher added, "The longer information is retained, the more vulnerable it is to possible hacking by identity thieves and other criminals."

In last week's debate, DeGette stressed, "The idea is not to preserve content, just identifying information in order to track down people who are implicated in the online sexual abuse of children."