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Forced to Watch?
Watchdogs are usually watchdogs by choice. However, according a news media report, the Department of Justice is considering forcing internet service providers (ISPs) into a watchdog role. Specifically, ZDNet is reporting that DOJ "is quietly shopping around the explosive idea of requiring Internet service providers to retain records of their customers' online activities."

The report goes on to explain that future "data retention rules could permit police to obtain records of e-mail chatter, Web browsing or chat-room activity months after Internet providers ordinarily would have deleted the logs--that is, if logs were ever kept in the first place."

An official with the U.S. Internet Industry Association, which represents small and medium-sized ISPs, was quoted as saying "It was raised not once but several times in the meeting, very emphatically. We were told, ‘You're going to have to start thinking about data retention if you don't want people to think you're soft on child porn.'"

An official with a leading privacy watchdog, the Electronic Privacy Information Center noted that "Even if your concern is chasing after child pornographers, the packets don't come pre-labeled that way. What effectively happens is that all ISP customers, when that data is presented to the government, become potential targets of subsequent investigations."

Winston understands that the issue of requiring ISPs to maintain their records is a difficult one with legitimate interests on both sides. Winston also understands that any ISP data retention regulations would be subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act, including the requirement for the government to demonstrate the practical utility of the proposed records retention policy and the additional requirements specific to reducing the burden on small businesses. Any proposal to require that ISPs become watchdogs should undergo rigorous Paperwork Reduction Act review.

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