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House Panel Approves Child-Porn Bill, Despite Data-Privacy Concerns House Panel Approves Child-Porn Bill, Despite Data-Privacy Concerns

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Technology / TECHNOLOGY

House Panel Approves Child-Porn Bill, Despite Data-Privacy Concerns

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., doesn't like a data bill aimed at foiling child pornographers.(Chet Susslin)

photo of Josh Smith
July 28, 2011

The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill on Thursday requiring Internet service providers to keep user information on file to help track pedophiles and child pornographers, despite opposition from some members who feared the measure opened the door to government surveillance of all Americans.

The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 was hotly contested during its two-day markup, but the legislation passed 19-10 in the end. Among other things, the bill requires Internet companies to collect and retain the Internet protocol addresses of all users for at least a year in order to allow law enforcement officials time to collect evidence.

“Every piece of prematurely discarded information could be the footprint of a child predator,” said Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who cosponsored the bill with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. “This bill ensures that the online footprints of predators are not erased.”

 

Smith overcame more than a dozen amendments and hours of criticism from members of both parties. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., led the opposition to the bill, filing several doomed amendments that would have stripped or limited the data-retention provisions.

When none of her major amendments passed, Lofgren offered a final poke in the eye. Lofgren proposed renaming the bill the “Keep Every American’s Digital Data for Submission to the Federal Government Without a Warrant Act of 2011.” That also failed.

“I think we ought to say what we’re doing rather than pretend that this is about child pornography,” she said.

Opponents argued that despite Smith’s assurances that the collected information would be limited to IP addresses, the measure could potentially force Internet providers to gather names, addresses, credit-card numbers, and other private data.

“What we’re doing here is creating a database of all Americans. It goes way beyond child pornography,” said ranking member John Conyers, D-Mich. “It’s a big step in the wrong direction and shifts us away from American values.”

The bill would allow the government to access personal data for millions of Americans, regardless of whether they are suspected of using or creating child pornography, Conyers said, and he called this expansion of power a major government intrusion into Americans’ privacy.

Lofgren scoffed at Smith’s assertion that courts are not part of the government and therefore not allowed to access the stored data under the bill.

“A court is not a government entity? Nice try, Mr. Chairman,” Lofgren said. She argued that through court orders, the databases could be opened to all kinds of people involved in civil litigation.

But Smith said that the bill simply brings Internet information under the same standards already in place for telephone records.

“When investigators develop leads that might result in saving a child or apprehending a pedophile, their efforts should not be frustrated because vital records were destroyed simply because there was no requirement to retain them,” he said. “This bill requires ISPs to retain subscriber records, similar to records retained by telephone companies, to aid law enforcement officials in their fight against child sexual exploitation.”

The bill also gives the U.S. Marshals Service the authority to use administrative subpoenas to track down unregistered sex offenders.

A court does not need to approve administrative subpoenas, and this provision garnered heated opposition from members who said that it gives the marshals too much power. An amendment by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., that would have stripped that provision from the bill, failed.

Speaking after Wednesday’s debate, Smith said that the bill will likely come to the floor sometime after the August recess, but it is unclear whether it will be considered before the end of September.

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