Top officials with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) have requested that leading Web firms, such as Google, Microsoft and AOL, retain records of their users’ Web-surfing and search habits, in order to assist the government in future terrorism and child pornography investigations, USA Today reports.
FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales met in private on Friday with executives from Google, Microsoft, AOL and Verizon, among others, to detail their request, according to USA Today. Additional meetings are scheduled for Friday, USA Today reports.
In the past, the DoJ has requested information from Internet heavies for use in kiddy porn investigations, but the usage of Web records for use in terrorism-related instances is a relatively new approach, according to USA Today. The Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks in New York City were a turning point of sorts for the way the Web is used in such investigations. Today, terror cells often release messages and communications via Web chat rooms and other locales, so law enforcement officials have responded in kind by increasing their Internet-monitoring activities and operations.
Spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the DoJ is not asking the companies to keep the contents of e-mail; rather, it wants them to store e-mail traffic and search records, and it would need the proper court approval, such as a subpoena, to request the information, according to USA Today.
The government request puts Web companies in the position of having to balance the interests of the U.S. government with the privacy rights of their customers.
“The issue for us is not whether we retain data, but we want to see it done right,” said Dave McClure, president of the U.S. Internet Industry Association, which represents Internet firms, according to USA Today. “Our concerns are who pays for it, what data is retained, and if it is retained legally without violating federal laws and subscriber agreements.”
The companies face a number of challenges in granting the government’s wishes. For example, the cost of storing—and securing—data is costly, and because of the size of the companies’ customer bases, the amount of data that would need to be stored would be massive.
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