Reports are that law enforcement is asking ISPs to keep records longer. Should we worry?
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Hi everyone, this is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some
of the many questions I get at askleo.info.
USA Today reported this morning that various law enforcement officials are
planning to ask internet service companies to keep access records for up to two
years. The goal is to aid in the ubiquitous hunt for terrorists and for those
involved in child pornography.
Internet privacy is a recurring them on Ask Leo! A very common question is,
essentially, “can people track me down or track what I’ve been doing using just
the IP address of my computer?” I also get other side, “can I track down this
person down or see what they’ve been doing with just their IP address?”
My stock response is that without the aid of the ISP, website owners or web
service providers, the answer to either question is clearly no.
The information might exist, it just isn’t made available. For example I
have the IP addresses of every visitor to Ask Leo! over the past couple of
years, but it’s certainly not information I’m going hand over to just anyone.
The common scenario requires that you involve law enforcement, and if you have
a strong enough case, they, in turn, can subpoena the information from the
various players. Assuming, of course that the information still exists.
And therein lies the problem that today’s news story addresses. Many
providers dump their logs after 30 or 90 days, simply to make space for new
logs. Two years of Ask Leo! logs is pretty manageable, but two years of HotMail
records? Or two years of Google searches? Or two years of data for any major
internet service? We’re talking enormous amounts of data.
The argument is that even 90 days isn’t enough time for law enforcement to
do their job. Apparently they’ve shown up at the doorsteps of various providers
with subpoena in hand, only to be told that the data they’re requesting no
I think this opens up a more interesting discussion, though, that goes
beyond how long data is kept. As I said earlier, you and I can’t get this data
– we need the help of law enforcement. But if you are law enforcement?
Well then things get much easier.
I’m definitely not in the conspiracy camp – I tend to believe that
what most people do on the internet is uninteresting to government, and that in
general, government bureaucracy prevents it from effectively monitoring
anything but the highest profile items. And I have no problem using internet
logs and other data to track down pedophiles and terrorists – assuming that
they’ve been accurately identified as such.
But I do think it’s important to realize that this is happening. Big brother
could be watching, and there could be more on the agenda than just bombs and
Your privacy. It’s an issue to be aware of, and to keep an eye on.
I’d love to hear what you think. Visit ask leo dot info, and enter 10362 in
the go to article number box. Leave a comment, I read them all.
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