This last week, Lamar Smith in the House and John Cornyn in the Senate introduced identical bills (H.R. 1076 and S. 436) to criminalize anonymous use of the Internet.

If passed, the legislation (entitled the Internet Safety Act of 2009) would require every person in America to register every single time they use the internet and to have their identity kept in records of every internet service provider they access for periods of two years, for purposes of access by the federal government. Section 5 of the Act reads:

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.

Declan McCullagh of CNet points out the implications: your entire surfing history at home, at work, at every hotel, in every Wi-Fi cafe, at every library, in every university would be trackable and traceable back to you. Your entire history. Everything you do on the internet. All of it, tracked and traced back to you. All of it open to access by the federal government. Anonymity on the internet in the United States of America would be over and done. Considering that most forms of remote communication, including academic networking, support group communication, information access and social movement organizing pass through the internet these days, this law would enable the domestic government surveillance of all these civic activities.

This is no mere suggestion we’re talking about, either. It’s a mandate to end anonymity, a mandate reinforced by the cold hard steel of prison. Consider Section 3 of the bill:

Whoever, being an Internet content hosting provider or email service provider, knowingly engages in any conduct the provider knows or has reason to believe facilitates access to, or the possession of, child pornography (as defined in section 2256) shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

(b) Definitions- As used in this section–

`(1) the term `Internet content hosting provider’ means a service that–

`(A) stores, through electromagnetic or other means, electronic data, including the content of web pages, electronic mail, documents, images, audio and video files, online discussion boards, and weblogs;

Ten years in prison — not for possessing child pornography, not for trafficking in child pornography, but simply for being an internet service provider, a web page writer, a blogger, or a discussion board host who engages in any conduct that could facilitate any access to child pornography. Even if you don’t realize that, even if you don’t think that’s the case, if you have reason to believe it, you’re guilty of a serious federal offense.

Guess what that includes:

* Letting people post discussion board comments, comments, or guestbook anonymously or pseudonymously
* Letting people use anonymous proxy servers to post their messages.
* Letting those people post images on one’s blog or guestbook or discussion board.

If you just let people participate on your website without tracking each poster’s identity and without keeping an eagle eye on every one of those postings, then you have engaged in conduct that you should have reason to believe acts to facilitate access to child pornography.

The Internet Safety Act makes it a very dangerous place, not just to be an internet access company but also to be a writer or web page owner of almost any sort. If this bill passes, every hotel, office, library, school, barista and online writer will be required under penalty of law to participate in the squelching of anonymous community on the Internet.

If you’re thinking your way through the objection, “But our government wouldn’t interpret and act upon laws in such a draconian fashion,” stop and consider the track record of the last eight years, from the Bush administration through the Obama times that continue many of the very same policies.

The justification for this bill is couched in the language of protecting Americans from child pornography. I don’t agree with child pornography. I’m not going to even suggest a justification for it. But in the name of stopping child pornography, Cornyn and Smith have proposed a law that would place all online communication under the watch of Big Brother’s eye.

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