Conor Friedersdorf and Declan McCullagh on a Grave Threat to Internet Privacy

All I have to say is that The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 makes the incandescent light bulb ban pale in significance. The goal of the legislation is admirable. But the actual provisions of the proposed legislation, as described by Conor Friedersdorf, are absolutely chilling:

[U]nder language approved 19 to 10 by a House committee, the firm that sells you Internet access would be required to track all of your Internet activity and save it for 18 months, along with yourname, the address where you live, your bank account numbers, your credit card numbers, and IP addresses you’ve been assigned. 

Tracking the private daily behavior of everyone in order to help catch a small number of child criminals is itself the noxious practice of police states. Said an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “The data retention mandate in this bill would treat every Internet user like a criminal and threaten the online privacy and free speech rights of every American.” Even more troubling is what the government would need to do in order to access this trove of private information: ask for it.

I kid you not — that’s it.

As written, The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 doesn’t require that someone be under investigation on child pornography charges in order for police to access their Internet history — being suspected of any crime is enough. (It may even be made available in civil matters like divorce trials or child custody battles.) Nor do police need probable cause to search this information. As Rep. James Sensenbrenner says, (R-Wisc.) “It poses numerous risks that well outweigh any benefits, and I’m not convinced it will contribute in a significant way to protecting children.” [Emphasis added]

Declan McCullagh, the libertarian-minded political correspondent for CNET, reveals that it is actually conservative Republicans, led by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, who’ve advanced this legislation. Fortunately, Sensenbrenner and Rep. Jason Chaffetz have made the case against it, as have a number of congressional Democrats who deserve no small credit. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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