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July 24, 2007

FBI Wants to Buy Telecom Customer Data

Wired is reporting on a proposal by the FBI to fund creation of data centers with the three major telecoms for the purpose of archiving and processing information requests for the government.  The telecoms would retain data for network calling and Internet connection records  for at least 2 years.  There would be a dedicated employee at each data center ready to retrieve records.

The Attorney General has been calling for Congress to enact a law requiring these actions as a way to investigate potential terrorism.  Congress, so far, has declined.  A funding request means that the government would buy the information that they couldn't get for free.  The telecoms certainly would have little problem with this approach.  Their main objection was the cost of maintaining data for two years when their business objectives didn't require it. 

How this all jibes with the major search engines falling all over themselves in efforts to reduce the amount of time they maintain person identifiable search records.  Google started earlier this year stating it would anonymize records after 18 months.  Very recently Microsoft joined with Ask to meet the same standard and called for any industry wide conference to hammer out a common standard.  Not a bad idea, even if just a little self serving on the part of Microsoft.  Industry regulating itself is preferable to Congressional intervention.  Laws have little flexibility as technology changes.

Calling and Internet records combined with actual search data would be pretty revealing.  The search industry is going in the opposite direction of the telecoms on data retention.  It remains to be seen if the government will urge the major search engines to keep data or buy them off as well. 

It would also be interesting to see how Google addresses Internet privacy if it successfully bids on wireless spectrum.  Assuming Google offered WiFi access, phone calling services, search services, mobile search services, video services, targeted advertising and, oh, everything else anyone needs to connect and use the Internet, it would own a fairly integrated portrait of its customer base.  That proposition should get the Justice Department salivating.

July 24, 2007 | Permalink


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