With H.R. 1981, the jaws of law will eat your Internet rights

You remember in Jaws where a girl is swimming in the ocean and the music starts playing ("dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun ...")? You know what's going to happen ... at the last moment she sees the shark's dorsal fin slicing through the water and, "eeeekkkkkkkkk!" ... too late! CHOMP!

Well, that's sort of the way things are shaping with a bill that has implications just as worrying as the two recently squashed but not yet truly dead bills, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), that I sliced and diced a couple of weeks ago here in Backspin.

The sea in this horror movie is once again the Internet, the swimmer is you and me and all U.S. Internet users, and the shark is called the "Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011."

The problem with this bill lies not in its core intentions, to provide a framework in which to define, prosecute and punish online child pornography. Quite obviously that is a hugely important topic and one that needs to be addressed in an intelligent, realistic and effective manner. The problem is in its implementation and unintended consequences.

Sponsored by the out-of-touch and uninformed Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who was also ("dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun ...") the lead sponsor of SOPA ("eeeeeekkkkkk"), the bill, HR 1981, was introduced last year to broad condemnation by pretty much anyone with a clue about the online world (the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Library Association were particularly vocal).

Alas, people with a clue are apparently not among the 39 co-sponsors of the bill, which was passed by House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 16 and placed on the Union Calendar. That may not sound important, but according to several sources, including The Next Web, this means the bill has been given what is called "expedited consideration," which puts it on a fast track to being passed!

So, what's so bad about the "Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011"? Well, hidden among the good provisions is the requirement that "A commercial provider of an electronic communication service shall retain for a period of at least one year a log of the temporarily assigned network addresses the provider assigns to a subscriber to or customer of such service that enables the identification of the corresponding customer or subscriber information ..."

You might want to go back and read that again because it's couched in language that makes its goal somewhat unclear. What the proposed legislation wants is for your ISP to keep detailed records of the IP addresses assigned to you so if you are suspected of being a bad guy at some future time, your past activities can be reviewed.

Apart from the obvious violation of our constitutional rights, the thing that should have us all worried is the almost guaranteed abuse of the tracking data that will occur (and don't tell me you have nothing to hide 'cause that ain't the issue). Just consider how easily cell phone providers have been known to give in to cell phone tracking requests (remember Sprint actually set up a self-service portal for law enforcement to do just that!).

The biggest problem with H.R. 1981 is that very few of its sponsors really understand the bill's implications. One of its few vocal opponents, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), renamed the bill the "Keep Every American's Digital Data for Submission to the Federal Government without a Warrant Act," which is exactly the problem.

Be warned ("dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun ...") this bill is relentlessly slicing through the legislative process and, if it passes, it will eat up even more of our liberties along with those we've already lost ("eeeekkkkkkkkk!").

Gibbs is treading water in Ventura, Calif. Tell backspin@gibbs.com if you can see the threat and follow Gibbs on Twitter (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

This story, "With H.R. 1981, the jaws of law will eat your Internet rights" was originally published by Network World.

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