H.R. 1981 Is A Turd Wrapped In Cotton Candy

By: Josh Wolford - January 23, 2012

Sometimes it feels like we’re all just playing a big game of electronic privacy whack-a-mole. And if we hold true to that analogy, the next mole that needs to be whacked might look cute on the outside – but it needs to be crushed nonetheless.

Ever since the giant internet-wide SOPA protests that went down last Wednesday, people have been celebrating the death of both SOPA and PIPA. While SOPA author Lamar Smith did say that he won’t bring the bill up in committee until “wider agreement on a solution” is reached, the bill is just a zombie requiring a headshot at this point. Likewise, PIPA isn’t 100% dead, but Harry Reid did postpone action on the bill “in light of recent events.”

Even if we can’t call SOPA and PIPA totally dead, we might be able to safely say that they’re mostly dead. And we can say with confidence that the internet protests had a big impact in those decisions. Seriously, just look at how congressional support for the legislation shifted in just one day.

But as we declare victory over SOPA and PIPA, the internet is quick to remind us that we must remain vigilant. And right now, that means turning our attention to another crappy piece of legislation, the innocuously titled H.R. 1981, Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act.

Let’s get right to the beefy bits regarding why this bill is bad news. Here’s a tidbit from section 4 concerning the retention of private records:

A commercial provider of an electronic communication service shall retain for a period of at least one year a log of the temporarily assigned network addresses the provider assigns to a subscriber to or customer of such service that enables the identification of the corresponding customer or subscriber information under subsection (c)(2) of this section.

And if that language is a little hard to decipher, here’s the summary on the Library of Congress website:

Requires a provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service to retain for at least 18 months the temporarily assigned network addresses the service assigns to each account unless that address is transmitted by radio communication. Bars any cause of action against a provider for retaining records as required. Makes a good faith reliance on the requirement to retain records a complete defense to a civil action. Expresses the sense of Congress that such records should be stored securely to protect customer privacy and prevent breaches of the records.

The implications here are that all of your online movements will be tracked, stored, and made accessible without any real just cause. Oh, and it takes away your ability to have any recourse in the matter. All of this data could not only be used by law enforcement, but as the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, “that same data could become available to civil litigants in private lawsuits–whether it’s the RIAA trying to identify downloaders, a company trying to uncover and retaliate against an anonymous critic, or a divorce lawyer looking for dirty laundry. These databases would also be a new and valuable target for black hat hackers, be they criminals trying to steal identities or foreign governments trying to unmask anonymous dissidents.”

Here’s what the ACLU has to say about the bill:

[The] legislation would create a sweeping new provision requiring Internet companies (email, cloud, social networking, and more) to collect and retain hundreds of millions of records about the identity of online users. The bill, HR 1981, the “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011,” – if only it were that narrow! – is a direct assault on the privacy of Internet users and overlooks some key fixes that could actually help to address the very real problem of child exploitation.

If only it were that narrow indeed. You see, H.R. 1981 does something that is certainly not a first for bills in the U.S. Congress: it wraps a giant turd in cotton candy.

It takes an issue that most people can get behind and uses it to pass through crappy legislation that wouldn’t have a chance on its own. H.R. 1981 includes some alright stuff – as in, do you want stricter punishment for interstate commerce transactions that promote child porn? Sure! How about bolstering laws about protecting child witness? You bet!

Giant, sweeping data tracking provisions, however? No thank you.

One last thing about H.R. 1981 – it’s sponsored by Lamar Smith, who seems hell bent on destroying the internet.

The bill has already passed in the House Judiciary Committee and was placed on the Union Calendar on December 16th. As The Next Web points out, this means that the bill has been given “expedited consideration” and could be on the fast track to passing.

But if the internet community has shown us anything last week, it’s that buzzing about a topic on social media and bringing attention to something with coordinated protest can actually sway the opinions of those in power. Spread the word, sign a petition, call your congressperson. If you want somewhere to start, here’s a list of the 39 cosponsors of the bill.

[Lead Image via Reddit]

About the Author

Josh WolfordJosh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshgwolf Instagram: @joshgwolf Google+: Joshua Wolford StumbleUpon: joshgwolf

View all posts by Josh Wolford
  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    This is what went wrong your (and other Tech industry people’s) response to SOPA: you’re not actually reading the full text of the legislation.

    The section you’re objecting to would CLARIFY the amount of time that records are being held for compliance with Section 2703 of title 18, a statue that is already on the books and which already authorizes the government (and others) to look at your surfing activity. Without this law, ISPs can hold the records for any length of time they deem appropriate, and apparently some ISPs are retaining the records for too short a period of time to help law enforcement, who have to tie together multiple accounts as they uncover activity from those accounts through ongoing investigations.

    It’s not that SOPA, PIPA, and HR 1981 are crappy legislation — it’s that alarmists either don’t know how to connect all the pieces of very complex government legislation or they don’t want to, preferring instead to wave red flags as if there were a real issue needing to be resolved.

    REDDIT did an absolutely horrible job of dissecting SOPA. They’re not improving on their track record with this latest nonsense.

    In this case, you might as well object to SWAT teams bringing firearms to a sniper scene.

    • Thomas

      If a ‘Statue’ is already on the books as you say, would that not make it difficult to open the books and read them, depending on the weight of said ‘Statue’? Not sure if it was a typo or a misunderstanding of the difference between a ‘Statue’ & a ‘Statute’ that was behind your wording.

      • Anonymous

        Get out of here with your flaming. This kind of nonsense is just an invitation for an “F YOU” contest. Be calm.

    • Imjustataxpayer

      Any time the government has full reign over anything it’s NEVER a good thing. If they wanted to track anyone involved in child porn, there is probably a better way and if they would actually be concerned for that they’d find it and tried to sell it as such. every time we turn around the government(crooks) are attempting to take another one of our freedoms and invade our privacy.Enough!

    • Jameel Aboulhosn

      Why are you arguing in support of this bill? Are you serious? I think, sir, you are the one who didn’t actually read the text of SOPA or PIPA, or the NDAA or the EEA or ACTA, for that matter. These bills introduce the precedent – an important concept in the judicial branch and equally so in legislation – to do evil, Orwellian, Draconian things. On top of that, they also immediately provide for and demand the institution of horrible things that destroy our freedoms and handicap those that survive.
      Furthermore, your analogy is completely wrong. Even in that situation, the police have far more tools at their disposal than just firearms and firearms aren’t the only solution. The authorities also have other tools than what are being enhanced or provided by 1981. Even admitting that you have your sights set in the right direction. you’re still way off target. SOPA and PIPA are completely antithetical to freedom of speech as well as other laws.
      As others have mentioned, regardless of all the facts, any legislation that Lamar Smith has even looked at should automatically be red flagged and kept in a quarantine zone, the full text of it on the internet for an extended period of time so that congress and people alike can find out what the hell is going on before a single vote is made. Unfortunately this is the problem with our system – it’s not a democracy. We elect idiots who are supposed to stand for our interests and protect us, and none of them do. Our system doesn’t work and it’s the very reason so many constitution-raping laws have been passed in the last 100 years, even the last 50, the last 10, and the last 5 years. Go report back to Lamar Smith and tell him your propaganda mission failed.

    • Harry

      what about this nonsense? “A last-minute rewrite of the bill expands the information that commercial Internet providers are required to store to include customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses, some committee members suggested. By a 7-16 vote, the panel rejected an amendment that would have clarified that only IP addresses must be stored. “

    • ya

      Stick to running an seo site and leave the thinking to the rest of us.

  • http://www.LAokay.com Steven G

    What we need is legislation that sets the minimum and maximum limits for this information to be kept and lists the reasons that this information can be used for. To try and push this legislation into law behind a child pornography scare (which is a real threat out there I might add) is just ridiculous, but it seems to be an effective tool for pushing legislation that would not pass the sniff test should a law the only covers how long this information should be kept and what it can be used for.

  • daveshouse

    any Internet legislation being pushed by Lamar Smith should be treated as dubious at best. This bill isn’t designed to cut out kiddie porn just as SOPA and PIPA were not designed to stop piracy. People who are dealing in Child Pornography are already using proxy servers to hide their identity and now everybody will have to mask their IP to protect themselves from RIAA, divorce lawyers, hackers, social engineers, identity thieves etc…

  • Just a Guy

    OK, first of all the bill HR 1981 has 2 versions. IH and RH. The Section 4 reference you make is from the IH version. The summary from the Library of Congress is actually just the text from the RH version of Section 4. So most of your story is nonsense as you’re using version RH to try and clarify version IH.

    Having worked in Network Operations for an ISP for quite some time and still in that position. I have a need to understand these documents and how each may effect our business. The biggest effect I see so far is people spreading mis-information about it. ISP’s will not need to track your every move or what sites you’re viewing. The would only need to track what IP address has been assigned to your Service.

    If they use DHCP (Temporary addressing based on leases) they would need to track what IP address you were assigned each time that lease was renewed by the DHCP Server and store that info for up to 18 months or 12 months depending on which one passes. If they use static (permanent) addressing they have no need to store this info other than the initial setup of the IP because the subscriber’s IP would not change.

    So, the only info an Authority could get from the ISP is what Address was assigned to that subscriber on said day and time. The ISP I work for does not track usage. That is actually a very common practice to not do so. Since most Internet services other than Satellite and Cellular offer unlimited usage and the only reason to track usage is to account for how much data usage to bill a Customer for. Even then they are only counting Bytes and bits not monitoring where your IP goes. This Bill does not require ISP’s to track that sort of info. Only what address you are assigned by the ISP.

    If you would actually read the proposed Bills you would learn there are concessions made that state only a Legal authority with a subpoena, warrant, or court order can request this info and it would not be available for any other means than Child Porn investigation, Missing persons, locating a fugitive, or a person of interest to National Security. Suggestions of the language being vague and leaving the door open for civil matters are only made by those who have not read it.

    Keep spreading the lies though. When people in my company (and every company like ours in the US) lose jobs because subscribers are quitting the Service from fear of these false truths. Hope you feel good.

    • Jameel Aboulhosn

      Your verbiage betrays your argument. “Need” is a different concept from what they will actually do. If you have paid attention to other laws and policies going into effect like those of Facebook and Google, you will notice they are now tracking everything you do, or at least are able to. Google and Facebook both undoubtedly will.

      I think you’ve also had the koolaid because you, yourself, said “…or a person of interest to national security.”

      In conjunction with several other recent laws, anyone can be an interest to national security. It’s not new. The government has a file on you, and me, and pretty much anyone who’s ever done anything that could be remotely questionable. There are Fusion Centers around the country who track everything. People who did nothing have been tracked and arrested since 9/11. Now the government needs only call you an interest and they can literally do pretty much anything they want with you. See where you’re missing the big picture, entirely?

  • Jinxed

    All this bill states is that ISP have to record your IP address. It states NOWHERE that they are required to monitor what websites you visit or such. Just a Guy goes into this in great detail.

    • Chris

      I actually read the bill, top to bottom. I AM NOT AN EXPERT, but the text only states that ISPs have to keep records of the IP addresses a customer was assigned and for what time frame. No other data is to be kept. Furthermore, if I understood it correctly, only the Federal Marshals can request this information. Not any private entities, lawyers, etc. I do not agree with the high cost to ISPs: $200 million and up. This is sure to trickle down to all of us. And sure Hackers could get this info but if it’s just the IP address assignments, I don’t see how that would be harmfull.

  • http://seolinkz.blogspot.com/ seo linkz

    @ just a guy

    you stated this

    “If you would actually read the proposed Bills you would learn there are concessions made that state only a Legal authority with a subpoena, warrant, or court order can request this info and it would not be available for any other means than Child Porn investigation, Missing persons, locating a fugitive, or a person of interest to National Security. Suggestions of the language being vague and leaving the door open for civil matters are only made by those who have not read it.”

    you don’t find anything wrong with this? they can say anything they want about someone to get a warrant and that’s probably what they want to do. This makes it easier for them to profile, spy, and label people and then get a search warrant if they want.

    they could investigate you and your IP just because some spam porn link hit your browser – you might want to think about this some more.

  • http://www.lebowskifest.com Jeff Lebowski

    I like cotton candy…with a White Russian chaser.

    The Dude Abides

  • Jameel Aboulhosn

    Actually paying attention to the world helps before you argue in support of a bill that is in tune with a slew of anti-Freedom legislation and anti-freedom, anti-consumer business policies. For your consideration:

    Google Privacy policy (starting March)
    Facebook Privacy policy

    There are ton’s more laws that you can find very easily just by reading a book or listening to the radio or Googling.

  • Helen

    If we truly want to protect our children from internet pornographers online, we should educate our children to be careful about what they do online and monitor their activities. Take the time to communicate with your children about the dangers of sharing info online. Catching child porn downloaders is only solving half the problem; as long as there are child porn providers out there, people can download child porn from them.

    If any of those bills get passed, our internet access fees will probably rise. As if gas prices weren’t high enough already!