HELP WANTED:

Big Brother posterFOR IMMEDIATE POSTING ON ALL US GOVERNMENT JOB BOARDS:

US Department of Homeland Security – immediate requirement availability for up to one hundred million individuals to act as Deputy Big Brothers and Sisters. Duties include keeping detailed access logs of all wireless access points operated by yourself, and providing notice to proper authorities in the even of any suspicious Internet behavior taken from any such access points.

OK, not really – at least not yet – but if Republican Senator John Cornyn and Representative Lamar Smith have their way, the above won’t be too far from reality, according to the texts of two nearly identical bills (one in the Senate, one in the House) they’re each trying to get passed through Congress. The invaluable Declan McCullagh of CNET’s “Iconoclast” column leads us through the maze:

Two bills have been introduced so far–S.436 in the Senate and H.R.1076 in the House. Each of the companion bills is titled “Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth Act,” or Internet Safety Act.

Each contains the same language: “A provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service shall retain for a period of at least two years all records or other information pertaining to the identity of a user of a temporarily assigned network address the service assigns to that user.”

Translated, the Internet Safety Act applies not just to AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and so on–but also to the tens of millions of homes with Wi-Fi access points or wired routers that use the standard method of dynamically assigning temporary addresses. (That method is called Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, or DHCP.)

“Everyone has to keep such information,” says Albert Gidari, a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm in Seattle who specializes in this area of electronic privacy law.

Do you have a wireless router in your house, apartment or condo? Then this language clearly and unambiguously means YOU. Do you have no idea whatsoever of how to access the raw data logs of your router’s console? Too bad: you have to keep it anyway. I don’t know what kind of penalties would be meted out for failure to comply with this requirement, nor how thoroughly and consistently Messrs. Cornyn and Smith are expecting the federal government to survey and enforce compliance with the law. I suspect that this may be a law for which the penalty for failure to comply depends greatly upon either the severity of the need for a particular set of log files, or the loudness and/or political connections of someone trying to harass a given individual.

I don’t normally do this here, folks, but for crying out loud, write or call up your congresscritters and find out how they intend to vote on this terribly misguided legislation. And urge them to vote NO. This is the kind of astonishingly bad legislation for which it’s easy to see the genesis (and possibly even good intentions behind), but which in practice results more significantly than nearly anything which could be accomplished by the very shadowy, extra-governmental forces they seek to catch through this bill, in rendering America more unlike itself and more like the privacy-and-freedom-less regimes of parts of the emerging world. Or of the former Soviet Union.

This exact legislation – essentially – was tried three years ago by Democratic Representative Diana DeGette, and it’s no less noxious or intrusive or – I’ll say it – unAmerican – now than it was then. Let’s give this one a quick crib-death before the monster gets out of the box.