The Complete Story on the Internet Safety Act

We live in an age where online communication thrives. The Internet has created countless new opportunities for commerce and communication. With that progress, unfortunately, comes exploitation by some, including criminals looking to do harm. For example, sexual predators are using social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to identify and target victims – particularly young children. Just this month, MySpace announced that about 90,000 sex offenders had been identified and removed from their website. That is no doubt a positive step, but we know from experience that child predators and child pornographers will find other means to exploit children.

To strengthen penalties against these predators and enhance safety measures in place to protect our children, I joined forces with my colleague on the House side, Congressman Lamar Smith, to introduce the Internet Safety Act. While Internet crimes like the distribution of child pornography are not new challenges, we recognize more resources and tools need to be available to further combat crimes against children.

The bill has recently come under criticism for certain data retention requirements intended for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight. Current law states that Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and related subscriber records must be retained for three months at the request of law enforcement. This is because often the only mechanism for identifying the operator or user of a child pornography website is his IP address. Unfortunately, it is commonplace that by the time law enforcement has discovered the Internet child pornography and made the request to retain records under current law, the ISP has already purged the subscriber records and the investigation hits a dead end. Our legislation closes this gap by requiring ISPs to retain the records for a limited period of time without first receiving a request from law enforcement. That way, we’re able to hold accountable the criminals behind these despicable acts that violate the dignity and threaten the security of our children.

It’s also important to point out that IP addresses are assigned by their ISP – Comcast, Verizon, Road Runner, to name a few. IP addresses cannot be generated by individual users who subscribe to an ISP. The record retention requirements fall solely on ISPs and do not apply to operators of Wi-Fi access points, hotels, local coffee shops and home users – as publications have erroneously reported. Moreover, the record retention requirements do not involve user content.

Retaining this type of information is neither new nor unprecedented. Telephone companies and the like are already required by law to keep similar records. The Internet Safety Act would simply extend the time period these records are kept, which I believe will help law enforcement officials do their job by identifying and penalizing these dangerous criminals.