RealTime IT News

Tech Talks Data Retention With DoJ

Shrouded in secrecy, top tech executives met Friday with the Department of Justice (DoJ) over a proposal that Internet service providers (ISP) retain customer records for up to two years.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales contends the measure is necessary for DoJ efforts to combat online child pornography and terrorism. Currently, ISPs are required to retain customer information for up to 180 days.

Friday's meeting, held under a veil of silence and closed to the media, drew a number of technology firms, including Microsoft, Google, AOL, AT&T, Time Warner and Comcast.

"We are aware of a number of proposals in the U.S. and Europe regarding data retention and data preservation requirements for Internet companies," Google said in a statement sent late Friday to internetnews.com.

"We believe these proposals require careful review and must balance the legitimate interests of individual users, law enforcement agencies and Internet companies."

Microsoft, while not admitting it attended the meeting, issued a statement outlining Redmond's position.

"We strongly support Attorney General Gonzales' interest in assuring that the Internet is safe for everyone, especially children and families," Microsoft said in the statement.

However, Microsoft added, "Data retention is a complicated issue with implications not only for efforts to combat child pornography but also for security, privacy, safety and availability of low-cost or free Internet services."

AOL and the DoJ did not respond to repeated requests for comment. IT trade groups were almost as mum.

According to a source close to the negotiations, the talks centered more on what information ISPs are currently retaining than on any specific time period for data retention.

"The DoJ appeared to believe more data is being stored than what actually is," the source said.

Gonzales has stated, "We were not asking for user information, that was never our intent."

The DoJ stirred up a flurry of privacy concerns earlier this year by serving subpoenas to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL seeking user search records.

All eventually complied though Google went to court before compromising with the DoJ, which wanted the information to determine if filters are effective tools against pornography.

Mark Uncapher, vice president and counsel for the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), was one of the few Washington IT executives Friday willing to speak on the record about the meeting, which he did not attend.

"The biggest barrier is whether the information [that the DoJ is seeking] is being stored now or not," he said. "Once past that hurdle, whether it's six months or whatever [for retention] can be dealt with."