Commentary

Gonzales wants ISPs to retain customer data

The U.S. government is stepping up pressure on Internet service providers (ISPs) to retain records of customer on-line activity should they be needed for anti-terrorism prosecution, CNET News reported in last week. The article reported that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller privately met with executives at AOL, Comcast, Google, Microsoft and Verizon, telling them they should retain data on customer billing, email addresses, instant messaging and Internet telephone calling, for at least two years. Most ISPs either don’t keep this information or routinely discard it unless it is germane to a billing dispute. The article goes on to delineate the difference between data retention and data preservation. Generally, police and prosecutors may order a phone company or ISP to preserve documents that pertain to a specific case. Retention, which enjoins service providers from disposing of any records for an established length of time, gives the government an opportunity to conduct large-scale data searches, or, to use a more loaded term, fishing expeditions. The reports are bound to heighten controversy about the federal government’s reliance on the telecommunications industry’s collection of private transactions as an enforcement tool. Until now, the Justice Department had only asked for ISP cooperation in cases of child pornography and on-line predationââ?¬â??crimes specific to the on-line world. If data retention becomes viewed primarily as an anti-terrorism measure recent legal and political spats could complicate the Justice Department’s efforts to make it a standard practice. Verizon, AT&T and BellSouth recently came under fire for allegedly turning over customer data to the National Security Agency, although there have been denials on both sides since USA Today broke the story in May. Earlier in the year, Google reached a compromise with the Justice Department over a request for data on Web searches conducted by Google users. Full story here.

Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.

Titch's work primarily focused on telecommunications, the Internet and new media. He is a former managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News (IT&T News) published by the Heartland Institute. His columns have appeared in Investor's Business Daily, Total Telecom, and America's Network, among others.

Prior to joining Reason in 2004, Titch covered the telecommunications industry as a journalist for more than two decades. Titch was director of editorial projects for Data Communications magazine where he directed content development for supplemental publications and special projects. He has also held the positions of editorial director of Telephony, editor of Global Telephony magazine, Midwest bureau chief of CommunicationsWeek, and associate editor-communications at Electronic News.

Outside of the telecom industry, Titch conducted rich media and content development for publishers and corporate marketing groups. He has also developed and launched his own web-based media, including SecuritySquared.com, an on-line resource for the security industry.

Titch graduated cum laude from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and English.