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Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday that Congress should
require internet service providers to preserve customer records,
asserting that prosecutors need them to fight child pornography.
Testifying to a Senate panel, Gonzales acknowledged the concerns of
some company executives who say legislation might be overly
intrusive and encroach on customers' privacy rights. But he said
the growing threat of child pornography over the internet was too
"This is a problem that requires federal legislation," Gonzales told
the Senate Banking Committee. "We need information. Information
helps us makes cases."
He called the government's lack of access to customer data the
biggest obstacle to deterring child porn. "We have to find a way
for internet service providers to retain information for a period of
time so we can go back with a legal process to get them," he said.
Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller have met with several
internet service providers, including Time Warner's AOL, Comcast,
Google, Microsoft and Verizon Communications.
The law enforcement officials have indicated to the companies they
must retain customer records, possibly for two years. The companies
have discussed strengthening their retention periods -- which
currently run the gamut from a few days to about a year -- to help
At Tuesday's hearing, Gonzales said he agreed with the sentiment of
49 state attorneys general who in a June letter to Congress
expressed support for a federal law that would require longer
retention of customer records.
"We respect civil liberties but we have to harmonize this so we can
get more information," he said.
The subject has prompted some alarm among internet service provider
executives and civil liberties groups after the Justice Department
took Google to court earlier this year to force it to turn over
information on customer searches. Civil liberties groups also have
sued Verizon and other telephone companies, alleging they are
working with the government to provide information without search
warrants on subscriber calling records.
Justice Department officials have said that any proposal would not
call for the content of communications to be preserved and would
keep the information in the companies' hands. The data could be
obtained by the government through a subpoena or other lawful
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