Congress may sneak through Internet ‘kill switch’ in defense bill

Raw Story | Aug 28, 2010

By Daniel Tencer

A federal cybersecurity bill that critics say creates a presidential “kill switch” for the Internet could be added on to a defense spending bill and passed without much debate, technology news sources report.

Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE), one of the sponsors of the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, told that the Senate is considering attaching the bill as a rider to a defense authorization bill likely to pass through Congress before the mid-term elections.

“It’s hard to get a measure like cybersecurity legislation passed on its own,” Carper said.

Carper, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), introduced the bill in June in an effort to combat cyber-crime and the threat of online warfare and terrorism. Critics say the bill would allow the president to disconnect Internet networks and force private websites to comply with broad cybersecurity measures. Future US presidents would have those powers renewed indefinitely.

The bill  states that Internet service providers, search engines and other Internet-related businesses “shall immediately comply with any emergency measure or action developed” by the Department of Homeland Security.

But many observers point out that that doesn’t necessarily amount to a “kill switch” — and, in fact, the president already has the power to shut off the Internet. As Time magazine points out, the Communications Act of 1934 grants the president the power to shut down wire communications during a time of war, and the Internet is now recognized as a wire communication medium.

Yet the proposed law authorizes the president to declare “cyber emergencies” — potentially expanding the president’s power to shut down the Internet to times when the US is not technically at war.

And even some backers of the proposed legislation argue the bill is too broad and vague, and the powers granted to the executive branch could be unpredictable as a result.

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