The Texas congressman who sponsored SOPA now wants to give law enforcement power to seize personal Internet data without a warrant.
FORTUNE — After failing (at least for the time being) in his effort to circumvent both the U.S. Constitution and the basic workings of the Internet with Stop Online Piracy Act, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has reverted to an old gambit — But what about the children? — with another bill, this one aimed at people who download child pornography. The trouble is, it would put at risk the basic privacy rights of everyone who uses the Internet.
The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 would force Internet service providers to maintain data on all of their customers – Internet protocol addresses, email accounts, credit card numbers — and allow law enforcement to access that information without a warrant.
The name of the bill, of course, is meant to allow Smith and his allies to cast opponents as not being concerned about the safety of children. Any legislators concerned about citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights would be forced to vote against “protecting children from Internet pornographers.”
Of course, people who view child pornography online are arrested every day in breathtaking numbers. It’s hard to do anything on the Internet without a record of it showing up somewhere — and often, it’s publicly accessible, such as when people use file-sharing software. Teams of law-enforcement officials across the land constantly monitor the Internet for such trafficking. One such team, the Silicon Valley Internet Crimes Against Children task force, busted five people in Marin County, Calif. last week, (with Ashton Kutcher along for the ride). In such cases, officials obtain warrants to determine who was using an IP address at the time illegal material was downloaded. Computers are seized and people are arrested. It works.
As with SOPA, Smith’s bill is aimed at a problem for which there are already laws on the books — laws that hew to the Constitution.
The bill has passed out of committee and a vote of the full House is expected later this year. Given that it would be more intrusive on people’s personal privacy than SOPA is, Smith will likely find himself the subject of a backlash similar to the one that caused the House to back off that bill last month. Many of the same advocacy groups are lining up to oppose the new bill.