Internet service providers may soon be required to retain all user information for up to 18 months under the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act (HR 1981) that passed through the House Judiciary Committee on July 28.
If passed, the act will give government officials the ability to subpoena information gathered from Internet searches.
“This bill does nothing to prevent or even criminalize those who exploit children,” said Ellis Godard, a sociology professor. “Instead, it institutes an enormous and unnecessary breach of privacy in an effort to address, at best, consumption of exploitative materials.”
Godard, who specializes in criminal law and keeps up on matters pertaining to the Internet, said the bill is abrasive, and hiding behind a taboo topic.
The authors of the bill could not be contacted, but the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary website released comments by the bill’s sponsor Congressman Lamar Smith, R-Texas.
“Child pornography may be the fastest growing crime in America, increasing an average of 150 percent per year,” Smith said in a quote released to the Committee of the Judiciary website. “These disturbing images litter the Internet, and pedophiles can purchase, view or exchange this material with virtual anonymity.”
Since the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) created the CyberTipline 12 years ago, electronic-service providers have reported eight million images and videos of sexually exploited children, Smith said in a July 12 press release.
However, Godard questioned the validity of the committee’s statistics, saying that such a claim would be nearly impossible to verify.
The process for law enforcement to gain control of an individual’s IP address and catch someone in the act of committing the crime of watching or distributing child pornography is a long and tedious process, said Carolyn Davis, director of legislative affairs at National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
By the time law enforcement is able to track the perpetrators down, digital information needed to catch them is already gone, Davis added.
Officials “can’t hold onto (suspects’) IP addresses for long enough to be meaningful,” said Davis.
The battle over what the government can control has always been an issue, said Nicholas Dungey, philosophy and political science professor at CSUN.
The Internet has created a different level of complication for government, because things deemed illegal domestically can be viewed instantaneously from an international source, Dungey said.
Management student Bella Villeda said the bill disregards privacy in an effort to catch a few bad guys, and it seems like a misappropriation of time and money.
“I definitely don’t like that they know what sites I’m visiting or what I’m looking at,” Villeda said. “Not because I’m doing something potentially bad, but more like because it’s my stuff. It’s stuff that I’m looking at.”
With the recent rash of high-level hacking, such as that of the CIA’s website, Villeda said she thinks her personal information may be less protected thanks to the new bill, and experts are not denying that concern.
“Nothing is unhackable,” Godard said. “Any lock can be broken, and setting aside that, there are insiders who leak (information), and mistakes that are made.”