Republican politicians are proposing new legislation that would compel U.S. ISPs and WiFi service providers (such as hotels and Internet cafés) to collect and keep detailed records of all customer Internet activity for up to two years. The stated purpose of the record keeping is to aid law enforcement officials in their investigations.

One of the bill’s sponsors is Texas Senator John Cornyn. He told a news conference earlier this week that it’s all about protecting the children…

While the Internet has generated many positive changes in the way we communicate and do business, its limitless nature offers anonymity that has opened the door to criminals looking to harm innocent children. Keeping our children safe requires cooperation on the local, state, federal, and family level.

Actually, two identical bills have been introduced, in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

The key language in the bills reads…

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.

Critics already see myriad problems with the proposed legislation.

First and foremost, as currently worded, the bills could be interpreted as applying not just to ISPs and commercial WiFi service providers but, potentially, to every wireless network in every government agency, university, school, public library, home and business in the U.S.

Second, the record-keeping tasks implied in the legislation would be an unfair and costly burden to many of those compelled to keep the records.

And, last but not least, privacy advocates complain that the plan constitutes a draconian infringement on users’ civil rights.

Observers note that the bills are still in the early stages of discussion and could end up — if eventually passed — in a much different form that they are starting out.

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