Even as they deny keeping records of all our phone calls, or call us traitors for complaining about them keeping records of all our phone calls, or deny our right to know whether they are keeping records of all our phone calls (I forget which is the official line this week), it appears that the powers that be want to keep records of every webpage we've ever visited:
The Justice Department is asking Internet companies to keep records on the Web-surfing activities of their customers to aid law enforcement, and may propose legislation to force them to do so.
The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales held a meeting in Washington last Friday where they offered a general proposal on record-keeping to a group of senior executives from Internet companies, said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the department. The meeting included representatives from America Online, Microsoft, Google, Verizon and Comcast.
I hope they have a good reason for wanting this and aren't just on a fishing expedition.
An executive of one Internet provider that was represented at the first meeting said Mr. Gonzales began the discussion by showing slides of child pornography from the Internet. But later, one participant asked Mr. Mueller why he was interested in the Internet records. The executive said Mr. Mueller's reply was, "We want this for terrorism."
Well, as long as they are only going after terrorist child molesters and not trying to stampede us into giving up our freedoms by using inflammatory images. And it's not a fishing expedition, right?
At the meeting with privacy experts yesterday, Justice Department officials focused on wanting to retain the records for use in child pornography and terrorism investigations. But they also talked of their value in investigating other crimes like intellectual property theft and fraud, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, who attended the session.
Hmmm. Let's see, they need to know all of everybody's internet activity so they can track down a couple of hypothetical child molesting terrorists and for anything else that they might think of later. But this isn't something that could expand into other areas, right? I really need to know that there is no fishing involved.
[The ironically named Justice Department] also wants the Internet companies to retain records about whom their users exchange e-mail with....
Okay, but this was just a hypothetical discussion. They're wouldn't put pressure on anyone, would they?
The executives spoke on the condition that they not be identified because they did not want to offend the Justice Department.
Executives of some of the most powerful companies in the country, who collectively own enough congressmen to form a decent sized caucus, don't want to be named discussing this issue because they are afraid of offending the administration.
For some reason, I'm not reassured by all this. I can't quite put my finger on it...
At the meeting with privacy groups, officials sought to assuage concerns that the retention of the records could compromise the privacy of Americans. But [Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center] said he left with lingering concerns.
"This is a sharp departure from current practice," he said. "Data retention is an open-ended obligation to retain all information on all customers for all purposes, and from a traditional Fourth Amendment perspective, that really turns things upside down."