SAFETY Act Spurs Blog Protests, Misinterpretations
A law introduced into the House of Representatives by Lamar Smith (R-TX) is whipping up a fight in the blogosphere. Aimed at combating online child pornography, the bill calls for Internet service providers to retain records on their subscribers.
It also requires adult website operators to clearly label every page that contains sexual material, and to ensure initially viewable pages (i.e., landing pages) do not include any sexually explicit material.
The main uproar in the blogosphere, though, seems in large part fueled by an interpretation of the bill’s language published at VNUnet.com:
A bill introduced to the US House of Representatives would require ISPs to record all users’ surfing activity, IM conversations and email traffic indefinitely.
However, that language isn’t specifically in the bill. That sentence has fueled cross-publication of a call-to-action written by Washington Correspondent for the Cincinnati Beacon, Josh Nelson, who provides a long list of people in government and media to contact. That call to action was published at TheSeminal.com, Daily Kos, and CrooksandLiars.com.
The combined force of those blogs have, certainly, helped perpetuate a myth.
That doesn’t mean there’s not appropriate concern about privacy and free speech. The language of the Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth (SAFETY) Act is actually quite ambiguous, which is perhaps, worse than if it outlined specific ways the government can spy on its citizens. Instead it leaves that determination up to the discretion of the attorney general.
Verbatim from the SAFETY Act:
…the Attorney General shall issue regulations governing the retention of records by Internet Service Providers. Such regulations shall, at a minimum, require retention of records, such as the name and address of the subscriber or registered user to whom an Internet Protocol address, user identification or telephone number was assigned, in order to permit compliance with court orders that may require production of such information.
The larger concern here is not so much what the bill requires, but that it doesn’t give explicit parameters on what type of information is to be preserved. That leaves the Attorney General with a lot of power to include surfing habits, instant messaging, and email.