The Internet kill switch

I guess I hadn’t been paying attention. I’ve been hearing people talk about a proposed Internet kill switch, but I assumed that it was either hyperbole or a fringe proposal. Nope. This is an actual bill proposed by Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Susan Collins (RINO-ME).

Its supporters defend it thus:

Proponents of the bill say it is narrowly crafted and does not intend to limit speech but to eliminate the vulnerability of critical systems such as banks, the power grid and telecommunications from attacks by terrorists or agents of hostile countries.

Indeed, the bill specifically does not grant the president power to act unless a cyberattack threatens to cause more than $25 billion in damages in a year, kill more than 2,500 people or force mass evacuations. The president would have the ability to pinpoint what to clamp down on without causing economic damage to U.S. interests, for anywhere from 30 to 120 days with the approval of Congress, according to the bill.

“This is not Big Brother,” says Tom Kellermann, vice president of security awareness at Core Security Technologies, and a former security expert for the World Bank. “It’s not about shutting off the Internet, but taking a scalpel to command control to key services to protect them.”

Call me unreassured. Who issues the finding that one of this parade of horribles is going to happen, thereby allowing the president to shut down the Internet? The president, of course. The bill specifically prohibits judicial review, and the Congress merely has to be notified. So the limitations are meaningless.

Remember that the Democrats have made it clear that they believe that Sarah Palin can singlehandedly instigate a mass shooting merely by posting a web page calling for the defeat of some Democrats. Against that backdrop, it’s very easy to imagine a Democratic president deciding that Republicans communicating on the Internet are going to cause mass casualties.

Worse still, the proposal is not really for a nationwide kill switch. Such an extreme power could be used only in a legitimate emergency. Instead, the proposal would give the president a “scalpel”, with the power “to pinpoint what to clamp down on.” The president can easily choose precisely who to silence without inconveniencing the general public.

But the president would never do such a thing, right? Wrong. The administration is already shutting down tens of thousands of domains, without any due process at all, for literally no reason other than its confusion about how the Internet works.

Neither is the limitation of the power to dealing with “cyberattack” likely to be any protection. We have seen many times before how racketeering and money-laundering laws have been creatively interpreted to prosecute political activity, and that was with the approval of the courts. Here, the power of creative interpretation would lie with the same person who would exercise the power (remember, no judicial review). That’s no protection at all.

This proposal needs to be soundly defeated.

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