A new bill intended to crack down on child pornography and co-sponsored by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Pembroke Pines, and Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, is drawing criticism from Internet privacy advocates.
Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and Deutch co-sponsored the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011, approved by the House Judiciary Committee on July 28.
The bill would amend U.S. code covering the obscene representation of children and financial transactions that involve child pornography, as well as penalties for child exploitation offenses. It also calls for Internet providers to ”retain for a period of at least 18 months the temporarily assigned network addresses the service assigns to each account.”
“We have worked with several Congressional committees to strengthen protections for children on the Internet and we support the efforts of this Committee to reduce and prevent harms to children,” wrote Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in a statement (.pdf) to the Judiciary Committee about the bill.
But Rotenberg added his organization has a “specific objection to the data retention provision” of the bill. Rotenberg wrote that “these provisions would undermine basic Fourth Amendment safeguards, create new risks to Internet users, and are unlikely to solve the problem that Congress seeks to address.”
The Fourth Amendment protects the right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The bill has earned the support of the National Sherriffs’ Association and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, among other organizations.
The Center for Missing and Exploited Children argues that “the child pornography industry has exploded” and that “new technologies such as smart phones, digital cameras and webcams have made it easier for offenders to produce, access, and trade images.”
GOP Rep. Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of the bill, wrote that the measure “enables law enforcement officials to successfully locate and prosecute those who want to hurt our children.”
Often, the only way to identify a pedophile who operates a website or exchanges child pornography images with other pedophiles is by an Internet Protocol address.
Law enforcement officials must obtain a subpoena and then request from the Internet Service Provider the name and address of the user of the IP address. Unfortunately, ISPs regularly purge these records, making it difficult if not impossible for investigators to apprehend child pornographers on the Internet.
H.R. 1981 directs Internet Service Providers to retain Internet Protocol addresses to assist federal law enforcement officials with child pornography and other Internet investigations.
Smith writes that the bill “does not threaten any legitimate privacy interests of Internet users.”
The Center for Democracy and Technology, a civil liberties nonprofit that works to keep the Internet open and free, disagrees. In a memo (.pdf), the organization writes that it “strongly agrees that child pornography is a horrific crime, and we have long supported increasing the resources available for its prosecution,” but adds that the group has “concerns about a number of the sections” included in the bill, such as the one “mandating data retention.”
The Center argues that the bill “would cause significant harms and would (because of already overtaxed investigative resources) not likely increase the number of child pornographers that this country is able to prosecute and put in prison,” but ”would have an especially detrimental effect on Internet use in this country.”