"Potential terrorists use advanced communications technology, often involving the Internet, to reach a worldwide audience with relative anonymity and at a low cost."
That's according to Yury Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which released a report last week that calls for greater surveillance of online civilian channels, such as Skype and other instant-messaging services.
The report, entitled " The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes," cites "the lack of an internationally agreed-upon framework for retention of data held by ISPs" (Internet service providers), calling that an impediment to "all law enforcement agencies."
The U.N. report ponders the "utility" of requiring ISPs to monitor customer traffic when Internet cafes "offer criminals (including terrorists) the same access opportunities and are unregulated."
The report goes on to mull over the use of location data "by law enforcement to exclude suspects from crime scenes and to verify alibis," and suggests benefits if services such as Skype would log "communication over the Internet, such as chat room postings."
This week's report is not a proposed law, and the U.N. cannot dictate the domestic policies of any of its member states.
But it gives ammunition to civil libertarians and democracy advocates who fear that the U.N., backed by Russia, China and other powerful countries, would like to take control of the Internet away from the United States government.
The U.S. has ignored previous U.N. policy recommendations regarding the Internet, but that hasn’t stopped American politicians from proposing rules similar to what this week's proposal advocates.
The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act, which would require ISPs to retain user records for 18 months, cleared a House of Representatives committee last year but has since been stalled.
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