Sen. Joseph Lieberman is lobbying for his bill, the “Internet Kill Switch,” in the Senate. Basically, it functions just like it sounds. The bill would give the president the right “to seize control of or even shut down portions of the Internet,” according to CNET.
The “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (PCNAA)” falls under the umbrella of Homeland Security. Basically, it gives limitless powers for the president to shut down the Internet at will. Private companies such as broadband providers, search engines and the like would face heavy fines if they refused to comply.
It’s been talked about before, and it’s sure to face an uphill battle this go around. The proposed bill is 197 pages of fine print. Part of the fine print is the formation of a new agency that is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The new agency would be called the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC).
Not only does it allow for a cut off of the Internet to the public, but it would allow the new agency to require “information sharing” by private companies, including companies that depend on the Internet or telephones…which describes pretty much every business in existence today.
Lieberman is quoted in numerous places as saying that the private companies may have to “do things in a normal business sense you’d be hesitant to do but national security requires you to do.” He added, “We protect them from that because the action the government is ordering them to take is in national security or economic interest.”
Many of the private companies involved support the legislation but for reasons having nothing to do with national security. If the president pulls the plug on the Internet to protect any kind of cyber attack, the private companies being attacked could not be held liable for the results of any attacks.
The bill is being fought by private groups who see it as a way to curtail free speech. Some see it as a way of doing an end run of silencing freedom of speech, using the threat of terrorism as an excuse. What is deemed national security can be a very subjective thing. A lobbying group, TechAmerica warns that this legislation would result in “absolute power” which should concern all Americans.
The Internet presents an instantaneous method of passing information, unlike traditional media forms. In essence, it’s a medium that cannot be controlled the way traditional sources can be.
Internationally, versions of this legislation have been passed in the UK, New Zealand and Australia. The U.S. legislation would provide for few limits on the president’s emergency power, and that power may be renewed indefinitely.
More disturbing, the legislation allows that the newly formed agency, the NCCC, would be allowed to monitor private sector websites, as well as other Internet sectors. The private companies targeted would be required to certify in writing that they’ve complied with whatever measures set forth by this new agency. The director of the NCCC can issue an order if the private company does not comply in a way deemed acceptable by the agency.