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Regarding the mandated data retention sections of the SAFETY Act of 2009

Sent via e-mail to Senators Specter and Casey, as well as Congressman Altmire, all of Pennsylvania…

Senators and Congressman,

I write in regards to a bill with the short title “Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth (SAFETY) Act of 2009″. This bill was introduced with virtually the same text into the House by Mr. Smith of Texas as H.R. 1076 and into the Senate by Mr. Cornyn as S. 436.

While the overall goal of the bill — a reduction in the use of the Internet to facilitate the trafficking of child pornography — is noble, I am concerned that a key section of the bill is overbroad and unenforceable.

The section to which I am referring is Sec. 5, the “RETENTION OF RECORDS BY ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION SERVICE PROVIDERS.” I include the text of the section here for reference:

Section 2703 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following: “(h) Retention of Certain Records and Information- 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.”

My interpretation leads me to understand that this section would require any person operating an electronic communication or remote computing service to retain at least two years of logs of temporarily-assigned network addresses.

If interpreted as broadly as possible, this law could require every person who owns an Internet router — a very common, inexpensive, often wireless-capable networking device — to retain these logs for two years. These devices have a very limited storage capacity and generally do not have logging facilities enabled by default.

This law would essentially obsolete every home and small business router, as Americans would be compelled by federal law to buy a certainly more expensive router capable of storing an great amount of log files. This device would also have to be capable of backing up these logs to one or more external devices in order to ensure that the owner is protected from device failures. The price of these new routers would be much higher than the current market price of a router and this legislation would open the possibility of lawsuits against router makers when a router fails to log or retain the logs.

While this procedure is standard rigmarole for computer- and technology-savvy Americans, including information technology professionals, it is a difficult and potentially costly one for those who are not so inclined.

A single power outage or accidental or natural disaster could put someone in a position where they have violated federal law, as they acted as an electronic communication and remote computing service provider and did not retain records as federal law requires.

This is, of course, assuming that the federal agents responsible for enforcing this legislation do in fact police it. Instead, this new data retention requirement will go largely unnoticed, unacknowledged, and unenforced. It will become a law used to convict the ignorant, the careless, and the negligent instead convicting those actually responsible for exploiting children.

I can assume that one or more of you has a wireless router in your home. This law would apply to you, as well. You would need to ensure that your wireless router logs all addresses which it assigns, and you would need to ensure that your logs are retained for at least two years. If for some reason something happened and those logs were lost, you would be guilty of violating federal law.

Moreover, the identifying information contained within these logs is easily fabricated and even easier to masquerade. Two of the three major operating systems can masquerade the most commonly used unique network hardware identifier — a MAC address — with a simple command. A trivial program does the trick for the third. Such a simple fact would easily dismiss a MAC address as evidence in a court test of this entire law, not just the section against which I am campaigning.

I understand that these bills have probably been referred to committees for further exploration. I urge you to exercise extreme caution if this bill comes up for vote alone or as a part of a larger piece of legislation. I urge you to see Section 5 stricken in its entirety on the grounds that it is unenforceable and overbroad.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. If you wish to discuss these or other technology-related bills, my phone is always handy and I’m always willing to share my knowledge.

Colin Dean
Volant, PA

CC: Senator Casey, Senator Specter, Congressman Altmire

Blog reader note: Slashdot links to an excellent summary by C|Net’s Declan McCullaugh entitled Bill proposes ISPs, Wi-Fi keep logs for police.

Letter to my Senators: oppose the economic stimulus package

To PA federal Senators Specter and Casey, by e-mail 9 February 2009:

I write to urge the Senator to oppose the economic stimulus bill which will be voted on soon.

This economic stimulus bill has cut out the majority of the programs which would benefit the most from it, leaving programs which already have sufficient support from private interests.

Furthermore, this bill does absolutely nothing to stimulate the taxpayer. The money from this stimulus will simply line the pockets of government contractors at every level of government. Moreover, it will yet again increase the size of the government, creating more bureaucracy and wasting more taxpayer money.

The worst part is that it is essentially deficit spending. We’re cutting taxes while increasing spending. We’re living beyond our means, and because of it, we are destined to live beneath our means.

Since Congress often defenestrates principles such as these during heavy votes such as this, I also will point out that a vote /against/ this bill is far safer politically than a vote /for/ it. If the Senator votes for it, the bill passes and it proves ineffective and wasteful, the vote could be ammo for a political rival. If the senator votes against it and it proves ineffective, he can say “I knew it wouldn’t work.” If it doesn’t pass, he’s safe on any vote.

I again urge the Senator to oppose this legislation.

Letter to the Editor regarding the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bailout

An abbreviated version of this ran in the Tuesday, July 29, 2008 edition of the New Castle News as “Mortgage bailout hits taxpayers.”

Dear Editor,

Recently, government-sponsored, private lending companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were affected so deeply by the present housing debt crisis that Congress has taken it upon itself to bail out the two to prevent them from going bankrupt and foreclosing on hundreds of thousands of Americans.

These two corporations combined own or guarantee approximately half of the country’s $12 trillion mortgage market, according to the New York Times.

It will take at least $400 billion, and, by S&P estimates, as much as $1 trillion in order to bail out these two troubled government-sponsored enterprises. Where would this money come from?

It will come from America’s debtors: ourselves.

Right now, the national debt is $9,545,842,200,233.46—nearly $10 trillion, up from $6 trillion in 2001. If the bail out would cost $400 billion, each American is responsible for $1,300 of that—in addition to the $31,355.92 we already owe. If the bail out would cost $1 trillion, each American would be responsible for another $3,300 of the national debt.

The House passed a bill which essentially authorizes the bail out, which will help approximately 400,000 Americans avoid foreclosure. However, that’s only $1,000 per person, folks.

Congress is authorizing the expenditure of money which is not its to give. I urge News readers to read Congressman David Crockett’s “Not Yours To Give” to understand my perspective in this situation.

Also, I urge New readers to call the office of Senators Specter and Casey and urge them to vote against any legislation which authorizes this misplaced government charity to save mismanaged corporations which practiced unethical lending. I urge readers to contact the office of Representative Altmire, as well, and discover how he voted, congratulating him if he voted against the bill, or the opposite if he voted in favor of it.

Letter to PA US senators regarding their stance on FISA amendments

Senator Robert Casey, Jr.
383 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
By Fax to (202) 228-0604

Senator Arlen Specter
711 Hart Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
By Fax to (202) 228-1229

Dear Senators:

I write regarding S. 2248, the FISA Amendments Act of 2007. I have read a summary of the bill, as well as the relevant sections of the full text where appropriate.

In my own interpretation of the text, which is by no means expert, I see two major items:

  • It permits the President, through the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence, to, in a word, spy on Americans without a warrant.
  • It effectively grants retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that collaborated with the Bush administration in previous warrant-less spying, thereby creating an legal way for other companies to engage in similar crimes in the future (only Qwest Communications insisted on warrants). It instead replaces as defendants the telecommunications companies with the federal government.

The fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In my interpretation, the fourth amendment states that no person shall be searched or seized without a warrant.

I am interested in how you believe that the first of these does not violate the fourth amendment, since the bill authorizes a search of person without a warrant.

I believe telecommunications companies should be held accountable for possibly breaching the privacy agreements with customers. Is it not up to the people to ensure that the government follows its laws? However, I believe that many opponents of that section fail to recognize that the federal government will replace the telecommunications companies were it sees fit.

Even then, this seems like quite a slippery slope. The federal government forces a private entity to do something in secret, then passes a federal law replacing the private entity with the federal government when the public finds out and sues the private entity. The federal government pleads “state secrets” and the suit is closed.

I await your interpretation of and reason for voting in favor of S. 2248, a bill which I feel violates the U.S. Constitution.

Sincerely,

Colin Dean

Urge your senators to oppose the Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007

The CPCEA of 2007 would allow consumers to break contracts within 30 days of signing for any reason. It also forces carriers to share simplified information on fees and service and calls for the FCC to “investigate” cell phone locking (something which I believe should be illegal anyway).

Here’s the letter I wrote to Senators Casey and Specter of Pennsylvania. It’s a modified version of a well-written comment from the Slashdot article on the CPCEA.

I write to urge you to oppose the Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007, on the basis that it gives a stamp of approval to the whole idea of long term cell contracts: even if my cell provider provides perfectly good service, I should be able to drop them any time I feel like it, just like a landline phone. I can cancel a landline phone any time I want to, and the phone company has to cut the bill off based on the number of days of the month I actually had the phone line active. Why should a cellular provider be able to give me any less generous terms?

Many negative factors about the US cell phone system rely on the lengthy contracts or are caused by them: the US gets only the sub-par phones the carriers choose to offer and not all the exciting phones sold in Europe and Japan, because, in the US, the carriers sell all the phones and because it’s the excuse for the lengthy contracts.

Indeed, the only really innovative phone to come along in the US is the iPhone, and even then it is contractually tied to a single carrier (even though there are unofficial efforts to change that). Also, in the US, we have less technological advancement in the network itself because the carriers know you’re locked in and can only use the phones they select, so they have less incentive to upgrade because you can’t leave them and there’s little competition if you could.

Further, all the carriers have reputations for poor customer service and network reliability issues in some locations, and, frankly, they’re also all reputed to not care very much, because they know that any customer churn they suffer will be replaced by incoming competitors fleeing the exact same problems from their “competitors”.

If we eliminated the lengthy contracts, cell companies would lose their incentive to offer discounts on phones, and would likely choose to start charging full price for phones. This would likely result in a competitive market for equipment arising, resulting in more consumer choice. Further, carriers would then have to directly compete on plan prices and services, resulting in more consumer choice on plans, likely lower prices, and probably also the companies improving their network speed in an effort to actually compete with each other for a change.

They’d have to start caring about dropped calls instead of just blaming the customer, because the customer can actually drop them on the spot and go to someone else until they find someone who can actually give them reliable service.

One would ask that Congress should ban all telecommunications contracts, but this is overbearing. However, a ban on all fees for breaking a telecommunications contract because of poor service would have essentially the same effect.

(note: this letter is an edited and heavily modified version of another’s letter to his senators)