Protecting America’s Cyberspace – Should There Be a “Kill Switch?”

While watching the coverage on the current crisis in Egypt, I learned that there was a bill proposed last summer by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) that would ultimately give the President of the United States the ability to flip the “kill switch” on internet access in an emergency situation not unlike what President Mubarak of Egypt did this past week. The bill is called Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Actand appeared to have moved effortlessly through Congress this past December but expired with the new Congress in January. Collins has vowed to bring it to the floor again in 2011.

Collins is quoted as saying “The bill is designed to protect against “significant” cyber threats before they cause damage. “My legislation would provide a mechanism for the government to work with the private sector in the event of a true cyber emergency,” Collins said in an e-mail Friday. “It would give our nation the best tools available to swiftly respond to a significant threat.” The President would be in control of this process and apparently, none of this would be subject to judicial review.

The ACLU along with several other privacy groups have formally noted their disapproval in a letter to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. “It is imperative that cyber-security legislation not erode our rights,” the groups wrote last year to Congress. There is a congressional paper that addresses the myths vs. the realities of the PCNAA bill and states that our rights as citizens of the United States will not be tampered with. It also states that this bill would not give the President the rights to utilize a “kill switch” but -“ instead would bring Presidential authority to respond to a major cyber attack into the 21st century by providing a precise, targeted, and focused way for the President to defend our most sensitive infrastructure.” It does appear that kinks are still being worked out on certain aspects of this bill.

After witnessing through news coverage what transpired in Egypt the past several days, I am wondering whether you feel this bill should be passed?  Should anyone in the United States have the ability to bring the internet down?  Obstructing free flowing information via the internet in the United States would be economically and personally disastrous for many individuals and I am not sure if anyone truly understands the full ramifications of such a bill.

In closing, no one, not even the President of the United States, should mess with my Facebook use. 😉

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  1. Jeff says

    I cannot think of one legimate reason why the government needs to have the ability to shut down the Internet. The ability for Americans to have the freedom that the Internet provides overrides any conceivable reason the government believes it may have. The government now has crept into more of our daily lives than it should have. Giving them more power is dangerous.

  2. Jennie@IW says

    I wish I understood better the supposed legitimate reasoning behind this bill – I’m assuming that it’s not, on the surface, intended to control the flow of information in a time of crisis? So I’m guessing it has something to do with preventing major cyber attacks that could actually disrupt the government or the American public in a significant way. It does not sound like a good idea to me, but perhaps it just has a PR problem at this point. I am wary of it but am willing to keep an open mind.

  3. Lily@IW says

    Very interesting article. I had not heard of this.

    I also don’t understand the need. I have a pop-blocker, anti-virus, anti-spam, what more protection do I need? I am very uncomfortable w/the idea that a gov would stop free-flowing info. They might as well shut down the phone lines too.

  4. Pam@IW says

    I think the reason behind this bill is to control major cyber attacks but the bill needs major fine tuning so that it doesn’t stray from the original goal.

  5. HB says

    Bush looked into cyber security measures after 9-11 w. wanting data retention. Public outcry! What this ‘kill switch’ does is take what already exists…the president already having authority thru’ the antiquated FCC wartime rules ‘to authorize the use of control of any station or device’. What is a major power grab…those who OWN infrastructure have no court to make appeals to but Janet at Homeland Security. What she says is final. No Judicial oversight of the Executive branch!

  6. snickers says

    I think a kill swich would cripple the whole business world. After watching the Wiki leaks guy on 60 mintes last night, some things make you go hmmm—–.

  7. Samantha@IW says

    I don’t know. Myhusband and I watched a special on tv last night about cyber attacks to government networks. They went through the ways it could happen, and that while unlikely- it is a possibility. What really scared me was when they showed how someone could hack into the missile launching system, not only ours, but other countries’ as well, and attack half the planet within minutes. It would seem that if cyber attacks are the concern, shutting down those specific government networks and that of crucial service networks such as power grids etc would be the way to go. I’m sure I’m missing something and to be honest the whole thing is over my head.

  8. Pam@IW says

    I don’t think you are missing much, although there is a ton of blogging going on out there about this matter. I think this bill was introduced to stop cyber attacks on our government and on things that effect our economy. If you read the letter from the privacy groups, they have more of an issue with the wording of this bill and the potential for harm it could do. They want it reworded so that the ” cybersecurity responsibilities the bill imposes falls only on truly critical network components.”
    I think in light of what happen in Egypt, many websites and bloggers out there are worried that this bill would make it too easy to bring the internet down if the government decides they need to stop certain information from getting out in the case of a true national emergency.

  9. Ann@IW says

    A “kill” switch on truly critical network components may be necessary, but that leaves a whole lot of Internet that should remain untouched.

  10. says

    My first impulse is similar to Jeff’s. That said, we vest our President with many critical powers – to bomb other nations, for example.
    I know technology is always moving one step ahead of many of us. I hope wisdom and democracy prevail. I don’t close the door to giving the President this authority, but I do want to see more input on this.

  11. Teresa E. says

    Uh, yeah, my first response would be no. Not just because I’m not comfortable with idea of one person having so much power and control but it would be almost impossible to completely shut down the internet anyway. Cloud computing? So you construct a kill switch then hackers are hacking into the kill switch. I like the sound of “precise, targeted, and focused” instead.

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