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Misnamed Congressional Bill to Track Your Every Move on the Internet

I have noticed that when a major political topic is talked about in the news for some time (such as the debt crisis right now), some lawmakers see it as an opportunity to ram through legislation that any literate American would object too. Now they have done it again. Using a bill named¬†Protecting Children from Internet Pornographer’s Act of 2011, ¬†congress wants to force Internet Service Providers (ISP) to track your every move on the internet, and to keep such logs for at least 12 months (click here for the original story).

I personally cannot think of anyone who would be against a bill that was aimed at protecting children from internet pornography. However, to track every American’s move on the internet, including exposing their credit card numbers and bank account numbers, is going so far past the mark that it is even laughable that they might try to pull this one over on the American people.

Today, ISP’s already track enough information to match up a user with a temporarily assigned internet address, which is what law enforcement officials need when trying to track down someone on the internet who is trying to be anonymous. However, this new bill wants to FORCE the ISP’s to expose all of the following personal information into their logs:

  1. Name
  2. Address
  3. Phone number
  4. Credit Card Number
  5. Bank Account number
  6. Temporarily assigned network (IP) address
  7. EVERY site visited on the internet

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digitally focused civil liberties group, summed it up nicely as follows (click here for the complete EFF statement):

The data retention mandate in this bill would treat every Internet user like a criminal and threaten the online privacy and free speech rights of every American, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have recognized. Requiring Internet companies to redesign and reconfigure their systems to facilitate government surveillance of Americans’ expressive activities is simply un-American. Such a scheme would be as objectionable to our Founders as the requiring of licenses for printing presses or the banning of anonymous pamphlets.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to try to make available a layman’s description to those whose career were not in technology of issues that would effect them. I have found over the years that organizations, including governments, prey upon people’s lack of knowledge in order to manipulate them. I am very sorry to say that this is what is going on here.

Most ISP’s (this could be your cable company, AT&T UVerse, etc.) provide you with an internet connection that assigns a dynamic IP address, a network address that is not specific to you, but can change every time you log into the Internet (okay, so technically it is a bit more involved than that, but for the lay person the thing to understand is that your network address could change at nearly any moment). The difficulties that law enforcement officials have had in the past was trying to track down a specific individual’s actions on the Internet.

Let’s say that a person sends as threatening email to the President…which happens to be illegal. Law enforcement officials would want to know who it was that sent that message. With a network address that can change over time, it might be difficult to track down who it was. However, most (if not all) ISP’s keep a log of which network addresses are assigned to which of their customers at any given moment. This gives law enforcement officials the ability to back-track to a specific computer should they need to.

What ISP’s most often DO NOT DO is track/log EVERY SINGLE THING YOU DO ONLINE. There is no need for this with respect to law enforcement. At least none that anyone has been able to explain to me. I certainly invite law enforcement officials to make it clear to me as to why this information is insufficient for their needs.

If you are getting the technical gist but are not understanding the reason for my concern at this point, pick up a copy of George Orwell’s book entitled 1984.


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