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AG Wants ISPs to Hold Data Longer

WASHINGTON –- U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales renewed his call for greater data retention by Internet service providers as part of the Department of Justice's (DoJ) campaign against online child pornography.

Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee this week, Gonzales told lawmakers the DoJ wants ISPs to retain more customer data for longer periods of time for help in tracking online pedophiles.

"As we've looked at ways to improve the law enforcement response to the problem of child exploitation and abuse of children, one thing we are examining is the retention of records by communications service providers," Gonzales said.

"Several months ago, I established a working group within the DoJ that is looking at this issue."

The issue of greater data retention by ISPs has drawn fire from privacy advocates who fear the larger pool of available information will lead to more data breaches and increased ID theft.

There are currently no bills before either the House or the Senate increasing ISP data retention requirements, but in the waning days before the Oct. 9 adjournment, the proposal could be added to a larger legislative package.

"We need to figure out a way for ISPs to retain data for a sufficient amount of time [to help in investigations]," Gonzales said.

The data-retention proposal is part of a DoJ legislative package circulating on Capitol Hill that also includes mandatory labeling for Web sites and increased penalties for ISPs that fail to report violations of child pornography laws by their customers.

The Senate Banking Committee, for its part, is investigating the role financial institutions can play in limiting credit card payments to sites identified as containing child pornography.

"Unfortunately, our banks and credit card companies, which have been instrumental in the Internet commerce revolution, have become an unintentional part of the problem," Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby said.

Last year, Shelby helped launch an initiative among key financial industry leaders to find ways to cut off the flow of funds to child pornography sites.

The resulting Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography now includes 23 major financial institutions and Internet companies, including MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Yahoo, PayPal and Microsoft.

"The members of the coalition represent 87 percent of the U.S. payments industry," Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), told the Banking panel.

Allen said the coalition's goal is to eliminate commercial child pornography sites by 2008.

"First, we will aggressively seek to identify child pornography sites with method of payment attached," he said.

"Then we will work with the credit card industry to identify the merchant bank. Then we will stop the flow of funds to those sites."

Allen said the coalition recently completed a pilot phase and created a secure mechanism for information about illegal sites for flow between NCMEC, law enforcement and financial institutions.

"This is a strong, unprecedented effort and already it is disrupting these enterprises, making their business models inoperable," Allen said.