The Department of Justice - in conjunction with the International Association of Chiefs of Police - is calling on internet service providers to hang onto customer usage data for up to two years.
Deputy assistant attorney general Jason Weinstein told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security yesterday that internet and cellphone records are becoming increasingly important in both federal and local investigations.
"In many cases, these records are the only available evidence that allows us to investigate who committed crimes on the internet," he said. "They may be the only way to learn, for example, that a certain internet address was used by a particular human being to engage in or facilitate a criminal offense."
Weinstein listed a number of heart-breaking cases that he said had proved unsolvable because ISPs had already deleted relevant records.
And he suggested that the retention of such records could actually boost users' privacy.
"In particular, foreign actors, including cyber criminals, routinely and unlawfully access data in the United States pertaining to individuals that most people would regard as highly personal and private," he said.
"Data retention can help mitigate those threats by enabling effective prosecution of those crimes."
But the Electronic Frontier Foundation begs to differ.
"Advocates for data retention typically focus narrowly on the benefits afforded to law enforcement without accounting for the massive costs and extreme security risks that come with storing significant quantities of data about every Internet user — databanks that will prove to be irresistible not only to government investigators but also civil litigants (read: ex-spouses, insurance companies, disgruntled neighbors) and malicious hackers of every stripe," says EFF activist Richard Esguerra.
"A legal obligation to log users' internet use, paired with weak federal privacy laws that allow the government to easily obtain those records, would dangerously expand the government's ability to surveil its citizens, damage privacy, and chill freedom of expression."