Updated Feb. 1, 2012
The goal to protect children from Internet porn and predators is a worthy cause. However, for valid reasons, a bill in Congress designed to protect children is vehemently opposed by security experts and privacy activists.
Add me to the list. Why? With journalism experience concerned about upholding the principles of freedom and good government, the bill raises serious concerns.
The proposal also reminds me of salient principles in two famous books written by an English author, Eric Arthur Blair. Writing under a pen name, Mr. Blair lived from 1903 to 1950.
Among a myriad of honors after his passing, Time Magazine named one of Mr. Blair’s books among the 100-best English novels. In 1983, Mr. Blair made the cover of Time Magazine. The book is also No. 31 on the Modern Library list of best 20th century novels.
Mr. Blair was a strong advocate of freedom. During World War II, he also worked for BBC to combat the sinister propaganda emanating from Nazi Germany.
“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,” he wrote.
In his most-honored book, “Animal Farm: A Fairy Story,” the author’s allegorical novel told about the events leading to the era of Joseph Stalin and Communism.
In another noteworthy book, “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” he wrote a fictional account of an oligarchical dictatorship.
“Big Brother is watching you,” he would write.
The author’s pen name: George Orwell.
So in being mindful of the books’ themes and a career that includes being a government watchdog as a journalist, the prospect of this proposed federal legislation raises red flags.
The House of Representatives bill, H.R. 1981, would require Internet service providers to keep records of their customers for one year. The ultimate goal is to identify users via their IP addresses. Sponsors claim they want to protect children.
Ordinarily, the goal of protecting children is a terrific idea. But the means to the end are unacceptable. Violating the privacy of Internet users is an abhorrent thought.
“The data retention mandate in this bill would treat every Internet user like a criminal and threaten the online privacy and free speech rights of every American, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have recognized,” says attorney Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in an article on Threatpost.com.
“Requiring Internet companies to redesign and reconfigure their systems to facilitate government surveillance of Americans’ expressive activities is simply un-American,” he adds. “Such a scheme would be as objectionable to our Founders as the requiring of licenses for printing presses or the banning of anonymous pamphlets.”
An ISP client told me such record-keeping costs would not adversely affect his firm.
“When investigators develop leads that might result in saving a child or apprehending a pedophile, their efforts should not be frustrated because vital records were destroyed simply because there was no requirement to retain them,” Threatpost quotes Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a bill sponsor.
“This 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 adds.
Fortunately, not everyone in Congress agrees with Rep. Lamar, according to Threatpost.
“The problem arises when data retention is government mandated,” says Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.). “It is the government’s role to conduct criminal investigations through the established legal process, but it is not the role of government to mandate how private businesses arrange storage procedures independent of the legal process.
“Simply put, the decision to store data should be a business decision and not a government decision,” concludes Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.
In Internet-security matters, I always check with arguably the nation’s leading authority, Dr. Stan Stahl (www.citadel-information.com).
“The devil is always in the details,” says Dr. Stahl. “I sure would like the ability to go back and find out who was at a particular IP address on a certain date and time when a client of mine received an email carrying the Zeus Trojan from that IP address.”
However, Dr. Stahl raises some questions: “Just how much pedophilia is there and exactly how is this going to control it? Is this a real problem or is this a candidate for budget cutting? Why one year? Why not 6 months? Or 18 months? Is there anything more than a random guess as to why we’re doing this?
“All this law will do is drive all but the dumbest of them to simply cover their tracks through things like advanced tunneling, anonymization and encryption,” adds Dr. Stahl. “Survival, as always, will go to those who adapt.”
He, too, raises privacy concerns.
“Those of us old enough to remember the 60s can only hazard a guess as to the consequences of the government having the ability to track our every move on the Internet,” adds Dr. Stahl. “Americans have a deep history of not trusting government; not all of this is irrational.”
The debate seems to be in vain. Dr. Stahl says pedophiles already have a tool to stay under the radar. He cites an MIT article.
(Note: Dr. Stahl has been my go-to security expert since 1984. I was introduced to his expertise via our mutual membership in Consultants West, ww.consultantswest.com).
From the Coach’s Corner, here are two informative links:
Dr. Stahl’s security blog
Mr. Orwell’s iconic book: Nineteen Eighty-Four
“The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
Columnist Terry Corbell is also a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services (many are available online). For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule Terry Corbell as a speaker, why don’t you contact him today?