The Federal Bureau of Investigation wants U.S. Internet providers to retain Web address records for up to two years to aid investigations into terrorism and pornography, a source familiar with the matter said yesterday.
The request came during a May 26 meeting between U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller with top executives at companies like Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL.
"I think there is less of a willingness to passively go along with this type of request than there might have been a year ago," said the source, mentioning the recent uproar over a report that telephone companies had provided call records to the National Security Agency.
A Justice Department spokesman confirmed the meeting but was not immediately available to comment on how long law enforcement officials wanted the records retained.
"This meeting was an initial discussion for the Attorney General to gather information and to solicit input from Internet service provider executives on the issues associated with data retention," said spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Gonzales presented blurred images of child pornography and explained why he thought retaining data was important to those investigations. At issue was Internet protocol addresses.
When one industry executive questioned how long the government wanted the records kept, Mueller said for two years and that the data would also be used for anti-terrorism purposes, said the source.
The Justice Department has tangled before with Internet companies over gaining access to records, subpoenaing search data from Google to defend an online pornography law. The government cut the size of its demand and Google acquiesced.
In that instance, Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. had turned over search information after receiving assurances that no specific customer data was involved.
The IP address is key to unlocking what a person does online, what site they visited what terms they searched, who they emailed and what they downloaded, the source noted. Internet providers usually change the address data within several days to several weeks.
Two big high-speed Internet service providers, Verizon Communications and Comcast Corp., also attended the meeting last week, the source said.
The Justice Department spokesman said Internet companies would retain the information and the government would only gain access to the records through legal means like a subpoena. "Internet service providers would retain the information," Roehrkasse said.
If Congress is going to be asked to pass legislation ordering Internet providers to retain data they won't be asked for content of that data but rather addresses emails were sent and sites they visited, Roehrkasse said.
Recommendations are expected to be submitted to Gonzales in the next several weeks, according to another source.
Data retention is a "complicated issue with implications not only for efforts to combat child pornography but also for security, privacy, safety, and availability of low-cost or free Internet services," said Microsoft senior security strategist Phil Reitinger.
Google spokesman Steve Langdon said proposals by the United States and European Union on data retention "require careful review and must balance the legitimate interests of individual users, law enforcement agencies, and Internet companies."
The Justice Department's chief privacy officer on Thursday met with a group of officials from rights groups including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for American Progress, Cato Institute, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Roehrkasse said.
The American Civil Liberties Union was also invited but did not attend, he said. Other Justice Department officials were meeting with victims rights groups and law enforcement groups to discuss the same issues.
(Additional reporting Deborah Charles in Washington, Daisuke Wakabayashi in Seattle and Eric Auchard in San Francisco)
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