FBI: Internet Firms Should Hold Records for 2 Years

The head of the FBI says Internet companies should retain customer records for two years to help the federal government investigate not only porn but also terrorism.

Law enforcers and industry representatives were expected to meet Friday, a week after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller first raised the issue with executives from several Internet service providers, including AOL, Comcast Corp., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc.

Top U.S. law enforcement officials have told Internet companies they must retain customer records longer to help in child pornography and terrorism investigations, and they are considering asking Congress to require preservation of records.

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"We are looking at whether requiring longer data retention or asking ISPs to do it informally is something we want to pursue," Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand said Thursday.

The subject has prompted alarm from some executives and privacy advocates, especially after Gonzales' Justice Department took Google to court earlier this year to force it to turn over information on customer searches. Civil liberties groups also have sued Verizon and other telephone companies, alleging they are working with the government to provide information without search warrants on subscriber calling records.

Brand said some executives have raised privacy concerns. But she said Gonzales has not made any decisions about how to proceed and that the department would be mindful of privacy.

Mueller suggested a period of two years and said terrorism investigations also would be helped by such a rule, several people who attended the earlier meeting said. Gonzales was focused on child pornography cases, they said.

Any proposal would not call for the content of communications to be preserved, would keep the information in the companies' hands and could be obtained by the government through a subpoena or other lawful process, Brand said.

Several companies said they work hard to protect children online and often cooperate with law enforcement.

"But data retention is a complicated issue with implications not only for efforts to combat child pornography but also for security, privacy, safety, and availability of low-cost or free Internet services," Microsoft said in a statement.

In a statement, Google said, "Any proposals related to data require careful review and must balance the legitimate interests of individual users, law enforcement agencies and Internet companies."

The meetings are an outgrowth of Gonzales' interest in beefing up child porn investigations, some of which he said have been hampered by Internet companies' failure to retain records long enough.