Jennifer Mardosz, Qwest's corporate counsel
and chief privacy officer, applauded efforts by politicians
to force broadband providers to engage in so-called "data
retention," which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said
will aid in investigations into terrorism and child
exploitation. This appears to be the first time a broadband
provider has called for data retention laws.
"We support legislation related to data retention," Mardosz
said at the Progress and Freedom Foundation's annual summit
here. Mardosz said Qwest "absolutely" endorses a measure
(click for PDF) proposed in April by Rep. Diana DeGette, a
In a public flip-flop, the Bush administration now is
lobbying for data retention laws, even though it previously
expressed "serious reservations about broad mandatory data
retention regimes." Rep. Joe Barton, the influential
chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has
endorsed data retention and is expected to introduce a bill
after the panel completes a series of hearings on child
"We support legislation," Mardosz said Tuesday. "We want to
be at the table. We want to have these discussions. The main
thing is what's reasonable and balancing the interests of
privacy and law enforcement." Qwest already keeps logs for
more than 99 percent of its services for one year, she said.
This is an unusual stand for Qwest, which defended its
customers' privacy rights when requiring the National
Security Agency to obtain a court order to conduct
electronic surveillance, according to a USA Today article in
May. The Denver-based company has a market capitalization of
$16.5 billion and says it has 784,000 wireless customers and
1.7 million DSL (digital subscriber line) customers.
Privacy groups have strongly opposed mandatory data
retention, and many Internet providers have been skeptical
of new laws. The U.S. Internet Industry Association has said
current proposals aren't "going about this the right way,"
and the Information Technology Association of America has
raised "real reservations" about legislation.
"Imposing broad data retention would be a significant change
to U.S. law, especially when it has not been shown that a
narrower data preservation approach will not work just as
well," said Kate Dean, director of the U.S. Internet Service
Provider Association. "The proposal to store enormous
amounts of data on subscribers and keep it live for a
lengthy period of time raises serious technical, legal and
security concerns." (The association's members include AOL,
AT&T, BellSouth, EarthLink and Verizon Communications.)
Qwest's enthusiastic endorsement of mandatory data retention
could make it politically easier for members of Congress to
enact new laws even if other companies remain staunchly
Details about the Bush administration's call for data
retention remain ambiguous. At the very least,
administration officials want to compel Internet providers
to keep records of which Internet Protocol address a
customer is assigned.
But during private meetings with industry officials, FBI and
Justice Department officials have cited the desirability of
also forcing search engines to keep logs--a proposal that
could gain additional law enforcement support after AOL
showed how useful such records could be in investigations.
Mardosz said that keeping records of what Web pages are
visited (another possible option) would go too far. "If you
get along the lines of content, there's going to be a lot
pushback (and privacy concerns)," she said. "We don't want
to go there."
DeGette's proposed legislation says any Internet service
that "enables users to access content" must permanently
retain records that would permit police to identify each
user. The records could only be discarded at least one year
after the user's account was closed.
Critics of DeGette's proposal have said that while the
justification for Internet surveillance might be protecting
children, the data would be accessible to any local or state
law enforcement official investigating anything from drug
possession to tax evasion. In addition, the one-year
retention is a minimum; the Federal Communications
Commission would receive the authority to require Internet
companies to keep records "for not less than one year after
a subscriber ceases to subscribe to such services."