Feb 15, 2010

Big Brother is Watching

One of the newer features in Mozilla Firefox is called private browsing.  The intent of private browsing is to prevent others who access your computer from knowing what sites you have been to.  While on the surface this may work to keep your boss, co-workers, wife and kids from knowing what sites on the Internet you are viewing, it’s not going to keep the government from finding out if they really want to. That’s right: Big Brother is Watching… and now they want to write a prescription which will allow them to watch more clearly.  Robert Mueller, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has recently called upon ISPs to maintain logs of its customers browsing history, and to retain these logs for at least two years.  This request is to assist law enforcement officials investigating child pornography and “other serious crimes.”  The idea of mandatory data retention regulations goes back to 2005, when the Justice Department first started suggesting such regulations.

Can ISP’s survive the FBI mandated infrastructure?
Having worked in the internet industry for the past eleven years, I have had numerous occasions where I have had to cooperate with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies on cases of child pornography, and it clearly is one of the most disgusting matters I have ever had to deal with.  I have no issues with, and wholly support, ISPs and hosting providers assisting law enforcement in tracking down those who participate in child pornography issues.  I do, however, find it troubling that the government might legislate what information must be stored and for how long the information must be kept.  The hardware and software infrastructure alone would be difficult for many ISPs to handle, not to mention the additional cost to the organizations in an industry where pricing pressure is already forcing margins to be minimal, if existent.

What data is kept?
Many questions are raised by this request, that all Americans (in our free society) should be asked:  What data will be required to be retained?  Will it merely be records of what customer had what IP address at what time, or will it expand into keeping copies of instant messages and e-mails sent?  Who will have access to this information, and truly in what instances can the government subpoena this information?

Will your future be affected?
While publicly it sounds great to say you want this data retained for child pornography investigations, it will inevitably be used for much more.  Remember those e-mails you sent where you complained about your elected official?  Well, an audit might just well be around the corner for you.  How about those perfectly legal adult sites you were visiting late at night?  Don’t be surprised if that doesn’t come up if you decide to run for a political office.

What do you think about the FBI’s request? Do you think it will change the way you browse the Web?

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