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President “Internet Kill Switch” – Good Idea?

07.02.10

Without much public fanfare recently a Senate Committee unanimously approved the bill dubbed “Internet Kill Switch,” which among other things would allow the President to take over civilian networks in case of an emergency. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 (S. 3480) and now moves to the Senate floor for a full vote. Given our economic dependence on the Internet and the amount of energy devoted defending major cyber attacks one might wonder if a more public debate would be wise. Many Internet based companies I represent would simply cease to exist if the President hit the “Internet Kill Switch”!

Who Supports the “Internet Kill Switch”?

Microsoft, Verizon, EMC, Symantec, and others support the proposed law, so there must be something to the proposed Act.  You can be your own judge by reviewing the Senate Committee’s report entitled “Myth v. Reality of Cybersecurity Legislation.” Whether the proposed Act is best for the US is still in debate, however given threats of Cyber War to the Internet something must be done to protect the Internet.

Senator’s Interview about the “Internet Kill Switch”

Sponsor of the proposed Act Senator Lieberman recently told CNN’s Candy Crowley about the whether the proposed Act was an “Internet Kill Switch”:

... total misinformation. I don’t know whether people are intentionally pedalling misinformation. Here is the fact. Cyber war is going on in some sense right now. Our civilian infrastructure, the Internet that runs the electric grid, the telecommunications grid, transportation, all the rest is constantly being probed by nation states, by some terrorist groups, by organized criminal gangs.

And we need this capacity in a time of war. We need the capacity for the president to say, Internet service provider, we’ve got to disconnect the American Internet from all traffic coming in from another foreign country, or we’ve got to put a patch on this part of it.

The president will never take over — the government should never take over the Internet. Listen, we’ve consulted, Senator Collins and I, who are proposing this bill, with civil liberties and privacy experts. This is a matter of national security. A cyber attack on America can do as much or more damage today by incapacitating our banks, our communications, our finance, our transportation, as a conventional war attack.

And the president, in catastrophic cases — not going to do it every day, not going to take it over. So I say to my friends on the Internet, relax… take a look at the bill. And this is something that we need to protect our country. Right now, China, the government, can disconnect parts of its Internet in a case of war. We need to have that here, too.

Seems pretty clear to me that we need public debate and scrutiny of Cyber protection since our culture has become so dependent on the Internet.

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