updated 6/2/2006 4:57:50 PM ET 2006-06-02T20:57:50

Representatives from law enforcement and the high-tech industry met Friday to discuss ways Internet service providers can better preserve customer records that prosecutors might need to pursue child pornography cases, people familiar with the meeting said.

One approach called for ISPs to strengthen their own retention procedures, a step that could help them avoid legislation, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were private and ongoing.

“Everyone agreed there are things that can be done better,” one person said. “There are ways ISPs can better preserve the data (for specific cases) without a blanket retention of all the user data.”

Top U.S. law enforcement officials have told Internet companies they must retain customer records longer to help in child pornography and terrorism investigations, and they are considering asking Congress to require preservation of records, possibly for two years.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller first raised the issue last week with executives from several ISPs, including Time Warner Inc.’s AOL, Comcast Corp., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc.

The subject has prompted alarm from some executives and privacy advocates, especially after Gonzales’ Justice Department took Google to court earlier this year to force it to turn over information on customer searches. Civil liberties groups also have sued Verizon and other telephone companies, alleging they are working with the government to provide information without search warrants on subscriber calling records.

At Friday’s meeting at the Department of Justice in Washington, government representatives did not push any specific proposal and did not discuss data retention for terrorism cases, focusing instead on pornography, one person familiar with the meeting said.

“It’s different from the previous meeting where (the government) came with a specific time frame,” the person said.

Neither Gonzales nor Mueller attended the staff-level meeting.

Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand said Thursday that any proposal would not call for the content of communications to be preserved and would keep the information in the companies’ hands. The data could be obtained by the government through a subpoena or other lawful process.

Several companies said they already work hard to protect children online and often cooperate with law enforcement.

The meetings are an outgrowth of Gonzales’ interest in beefing up child porn investigations, some of which he said have been hampered by Internet companies’ failure to retain records long enough.

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