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27Jan/11

Mixed Messages: US Govt. Tells Companies to Collect User Data, But Not To Use It

Last month the US Federal Trade Commission testified before Congress in order to establish "Do Not Track" legislation, challenging companies to either self-regulate, or face potentially stiff laws prohibiting the tracking of Internet users. This week the US Department of Justice testified before congress to establish regulations requiring data retention for the purposes of investigation and prosecution.

"Data retention is fundamental to the department's work in investigating and prosecuting almost every type of crime," US deputy assistant attorney general Jason Weinstein told a congressional subcommittee on Tuesday. "In some ways, the problem of investigations being stymied by a lack of data retention is growing worse." Weinstein acknowledged that greater data retention requirements raise legitimate privacy concerns but "any privacy concerns about data retention should be balanced against the needs of law enforcement to keep the public safe."

Emphasizing the vast disparity between the testimony of  these two Federal organizations is the following statement from the FTC's own prepared statement to Congress expressing a principal of "reasonable security and limited retention for consumer data" among companies collecting sensitive data.

"A key to protecting privacy is to minimize the amount of data collected and held by ISPs and online companies in the first place," according to John Morris, general counsel at the non-profit Center for Democracy & Technology. "Mandatory data retention laws would require companies to maintain large databases of subscribers' personal information, which would be vulnerable to hackers, accidental disclosure, and government or other third party access."

The DOJ's request would require "an entire industry to retain billions of discrete electronic records due to the possibility that a tiny percentage of them might contain evidence related to a crime," says Kate Dean, executive director of the Internet Service Provider Association. "We think that it is important to weigh that potential value against the impact on the millions of innocent Internet users' privacy."

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About Jeff M. Fischbach

http://www.twitter.com/FischTech Jeff Michael Fischbach is founder and President of SecondWave Information Systems (SecondWave.com), a consulting firm specializing in Forensic Technology. Since 1994, he has served as a board member and technology adviser to numerous professional organizations and corporations. Mr. Fischbach has been engaged as a litigation consultant and Forensic Examiner, offering expert advice and oversight on matters involving intellectual property, computers, information systems, satellite, tracking and wireless communications technologies. He has advised law enforcement, foreign government representatives, judges, lawyers and the press.
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