US law could make ISPs keep customer records for 18 months

A bipartisan bill introduced in the US House of Representatives will require Internet service providers to retain subscriber information for up to 18 months, to assist federal law enforcement in investigations into online child pornography and child exploitation cases.

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A bipartisan bill introduced in the US House of Representatives will require Internet service providers to retain subscriber information for up to 18 months, to assist federal law enforcement in investigations into online child pornography and child exploitation cases.

The "Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011" aims to amend Section 2703 of title 18 of the United States Code to make it compulsory for the provider of an electronic communication service keep IP address records for at least 18 months. IP addresses are the online addresses used by computers on the Internet. Consumer PCs often get a new address each time they connect to the Internet, so keeping records of which account was assigned which address can be vital in tracking down suspects.

The new bill exempts addresses transmitted by radio communication.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said they introduced the bill to help investigators track down dangerous paedophiles and protect children from sexual exploitation.

The US Department of Justice and an organisation representing police chiefs from around the country have previously called for legislation mandating ISPs to retain certain customer usage data for up to two years, saying that policies that only require ISPs to preserve usage data at the specific request of law enforcement authorities are not sufficient to go after online predators and criminals. The DOJ however wants wireless carriers as well to be required to keep user records.

Investigators need the assistance of ISPs to identify users and distributors of online child pornography, Smith said in a statement on his website. The new bill requires ISPs to retain subscriber records, similar to records retained by telephone companies, to aid law enforcement officials in their fight against child sexual exploitation, he added.

When investigators develop leads that might result in saving a child or apprehending a paedophile, their efforts should not be frustrated because vital records were destroyed simply because there was no requirement to retain them, Smith said.

Many ISPs already retain the records solely for law enforcement use in these cases, and many children's lives have been saved because of it, Schultz said.

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