FBI seeking Web browsing records for criminal investigations

At a public meeting of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Online Safety and Technology Working Group last week, representatives from the FBI argued that in order to facilitate potential criminal investigations such as child pornography, Internet service providers should be required to record the Web sites their users visit, and retain those records for two years. Greg Motta, the head of the FBI’s digital intelligence section, likened the potential for retention and use of Internet browsing records for investigatory purposes to the current requirement that long distance phone carriers retain details on calls made via their services. The intention for federal law enforcement to have access to such information is not new — as noted in press reports of the meeting, FBI Director Robert Mueller has wanted such record keeping since at least 2006, and asked the previous Congress for legislation to require it — but the current reiteration of this desire comes at a time (and under an administration) when the FTC and other government regulators are considering imposing constraints on online behavioral tracking by commercial entities. The period of time such records would be retained also stands in stark contrast to the industry trend among major search providers like Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft to retain data for shorter and shorter periods of time.