As for the claim that this kind of data retention requirement will help law enforcement put more bad guys behind bars? A European group issued a report that claims collecting and storing so much data might actually hamper a law enforcement investigation.
Kate Dean, a representative of the US ISP Association, echoed that stance during congressional testimony. Back in January, Dean told a House Subcommittee that requiring service providers to collect and store large volumes of data might hinder law enforcement's ability to access the information it needs during a time critical investigation.
Here is part of what Dean said:
"Perhaps the biggest concern for both providers and law enforcement may be the risk [of] impairing provider response times for ordinary legal requests and, more importantly, that their ability to respond promptly in true emergencies could suffer. Those who work day-to-day with law enforcement know how important it is that a provider be able to call up data in seconds in cases involving an emergency where time is of the essence. Data from ISPs can be critical in emergencies, such as child abductions, and providers know that in such cases hours, even minutes, could mean the difference between a child returned home safely and one who never makes it home. For this reason, the longer search times that are likely to result from a data retention mandate are a grave concern."
Tap Dancing on our Rights
By mandating the collection and storage of highly personal information and requiring that Internet users' online activities remain associated with their true identities, data retention laws chill the right to anonymous speech and run counter to users' rights to privacy, free expression, and a presumption of innocence.
Law enforcement does have a legitimate need for access to Internet records during actual investigations of criminal acts. The argument against this bill has to be weighed in context with those legitimate law enforcement needs. However, a system that gives law enforcement access to Internet records of the suspects it has identified is already in place. Commonly known as data preservation, this policy permits law enforcement to require ISPs and other entities to collect and retain data for 90 days and to renew the period of preservation indefinitely in 90-day increments.
From a privacy and civil liberties perspective, the benefits of the data preservation approach are enormous. Under a data retention mandate, data about all individuals is retained, creating high compliance costs, violating the rights of all Internet users, and making it more difficult for ISPs and law enforcement to identify the data that they actually need. Under a data preservation regime, data about only the tiny fraction of individuals who have fallen under criminal suspicion is subject to a data preservation requirement. Everyone else would continue to enjoy the same level of privacy he or she would otherwise enjoy regardless of the law enforcement investigation. Under a data preservation regime, service providers can focus their attention and scarce resources on competition and innovation, rather than building tracking databases full of customer information.