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Qwest on data retention laws: Oops

Broadband provider says its chief privacy officer misspoke when endorsing federal laws mandating data retention.

Broadband provider Qwest Communications International said Wednesday that it made a mistake when one of its lawyers endorsed federal legislation requiring Internet providers to keep records of customers' behavior.

Jennifer Mardosz, Qwest's corporate counsel and chief privacy officer, said in an interview with CNET that she misspoke during a panel discussion organized by the Progress and Freedom Foundation in Aspen, Colo., the day before.

"I just completely misspoke there," Mardosz said. During the panel discussion, she said Qwest "absolutely" supports House of Representatives legislation sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette mandating data retention--a requirement that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said will aid in terrorism and child exploitation investigations.

"I associated (DeGette's) name with the female Colorado legislator that introduced the state legislation," Mardosz said. "That was just a pure and honest mistake that I made."

Mardosz said that instead of embracing data retention legislation, Qwest was skeptical of mandates from Congress. "There is no need for it, because companies are already doing the right thing," she said.

On Tuesday she said during the panel discussion: "We support legislation related to data retention." One industry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said Qwest had backed the Colorado legislation earlier this year.

The original version of the Colorado bill (click for PDF) required Internet providers to "maintain, for at least 180 days after assignment, a record of the Internet Protocol address" assigned to each customer. Violations could be punished by fines of up to $10,000 per incident. The language was subsequently changed.

Qwest's revised position brings it in line with other telecommunications companies, which say they are already required by law to cooperate with criminal investigations and have been generally skeptical of broad, new mandates. The Denver-based company has a market capitalization of $16.5 billion and says it has 784,000 wireless customers and 1.7 million DSL (digital subscriber line) customers.

DeGette's proposed legislation (click for PDF) says any Internet service that "enables users to access content" must permanently retain records that would permit police to identify each user. The records could not be discarded until at least one year after the user's account was closed.

Rep. Joe Barton, the influential Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has endorsed the concept of data retention and is expected to introduce a bill after the panel completes a series of hearings on child exploitation.