Quick Thought on the Data Retention Mandate

The House Judiciary Committee passed a mandate today that requires Internet service providers to retain the IP addresses of all their Internet users for the purpose of combating child exploitation. Digital Liberty joined a free-market coalition letter earlier this week outlining why the bill (H.R. 1981) represents bad public policy wrapped in a noble goal. However, I happened across a brief passage in The Laws of Disruption by Larry Downes worth sharing that may help frame why we think sweeping "dragnet" style laws are highly disconcerting:

"…there are two strong arguments in favor of government intervention [online]: ….(2) crime is easier to commit and therefore requires more intrusive methods to deter and punish. In practice, governments have used these features of digital life as cover to…expand the scope of surveillance to nearly boundless limits. The tendency to abuse these powers is precisely the reasons most social contracts severely limit the reach of elected officials in these sensitive areas.

The wrong kind of intervention is dangerous."

The broad data retention mandate is precisely that: an expansion of government surveillance to boundless limits under the guise of a noble goal. We feel this is a dangerous level of intervention.