Their suggestions for mandatory data retention revives a push for potentially sweeping federal laws — which civil libertarians oppose — that flagged last year after the resignation of Attorney General Gonzales, the idea's most prominent proponent.
Based on the statements at Wednesday's hearing and previous calls for new laws in this area, the scope of a mandatory data retention law remains fuzzy. It could mean forcing companies to store data for two years about what Internet addresses are assigned to which customers (Comcast said in 2006 that it would be retaining those records for six months).
Or it could be far more intrusive. It could mean keeping track of e-mail and instant messaging correspondents and what Web pages users visit. Some Democratic politicians have called for data retention laws to extend to domain name registries and Web hosting companies and even social networking sites. During private meetings with industry officials, FBI and Justice Department representatives have said it would be desirable to force search engines to keep logs — a proposal that could gain additional law enforcement support, but raise additional privacy concerns and potentially conflict with European laws."