This Saturday, January 28th, is International Data Privacy Day, the date on which the first legally binding privacy treaty was signed at the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data.
On January 28, 1981, the convention met “to secure in the territory of each Party for every individual, whatever his nationality or residence, respect for his rights and fundamental freedoms, and in particular his right to privacy, with regard to automatic processing of personal data relating to him (‘data protection’).”
Data retention has become a hot-button issue in the public consciousness, with lawsuits against the NSA and AT&T for their free exchange of user data, as well last year’s fight between the U.S. government and Twitter, highlighted by the Justice Department’s subpoena and gag order of Twitter to hand over Iceland MP and WikiLeaks supporter Birgitta Jónsdóttir’s user data. Twitter took the government to court and won the right to inform users of government subpoenas. In response, WikiLeaks recently launched the #NOLOGS campaign to force Twitter to reform its data retention policy.
More recently, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) has fast-tracked H.R. 1981, commonly known as “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011,″ a title rich with pathos and seemingly morally impregnable, though it will actually mandate tech companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) create massive user data bases to be made available to the U.S. government.
As noted by The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) in its report “Compliance with a Data Retention Mandate – Costs Will Skyrocket with Trends in Internet Addressing,” the data retention policy contained in the bill is troubling, not only because of privacy and civil liberty concerns, but because of the immense costs that will be levied upon tech companies and ISPs to create the Orwellian databases.
It’s rather odd that a Republican such as Rep. Smith would place such a financial burden on the tech business sector, which would create a de facto internet tax on their operations. Indeed, the operating costs have long been a barrier to this legislation, which was originally introduced six years ago by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), a porcine slime ball if there ever was one.
H.R. 1981′s mandates would, as CDT notes, “impact hundreds of millions of individuals who have no connection whatsoever to the sexual exploitation of children or any other criminal activity.”
An even more troublesome variant of this data retention policy is now being negotiated behind closed doors in the form of The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA. The treaty is being crafted as an executive agreement, which allows it to bypass the Senate and be signed directly by the U.S. President without observing the Constitution’s advise and consent clause.
Giving some hope to the world, however, various EU states have ruled on the illegality of data retention policies as established in the Data Retention Directive (DRD), according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The DRD was led by US and UK government lobbying, and requires ISPs to gather data from email, phone and SMS, including the location of the user. Lovely.
Three years ago, CNET’s Declan McCullagh reported that two companion bills—the Senate’s S.436 and H.R.1076 in the House—would create massive data retention databases in the interest of “internet safety.” Both bills are titled “Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth Act,” or Internet Safety Act. Both bills contain the following language:
A provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service shall retain for a period of at least two years all records or other information pertaining to the identity of a user of a temporarily assigned network address the service assigns to that user.
As McCullagh notes, “That sweeps in not just public Wi-Fi access points, but password-protected ones too, and applies to individuals, small businesses, large corporations, libraries, schools, universities, and even government agencies. Voice over IP services may be covered too.”
While there isn’t much in the way of updates on the Internet Safety Act, it seems as though much of its aims have been folded into H.R. 1981.
So, this Saturday, why not spread the word to help end ACTA and H.R. 1981, two efforts to create immense internet dragnets both in American and abroad?
[Image via Shutterstock]