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‘Kill Switch’ Legislation Faces Uphill Battle in Light of Egypt Crisis

WASHINGTON, February 4, 2011 – Senate lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow the President to declare a national cyber emergency and give him the power to use an internet “kill switch” which could shut down internet access nationally.




Senate lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow the President  to declare a national cyber emergency and give him the power to use an internet “kill switch” which could shut down internet access nationally.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) originally introduced the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, which would have authorized the forming of an Office of Cyberspace Policy. This new office would have been given the responsibility of putting into place plans to protect the nation’s infrastructure from cyber-attacks.  The 2010 bill died when Congress failed to act on it; however, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) reintroduced the bill to the new Congress last week under the title Cyber Security and American Cyber Competitiveness Act of 2011.

Those who oppose the legislation feel the bill hinders the neutrality of the internet, and could possible pose a threat to free speech. The most controversial element of the bill is the lack of specificity of the powers given to the president during a “national cyber emergency."

A summary of the bill located on the Library of Congress web site specifies the President “notify the owners and operators of the infrastructure of the nature of the emergency, consistent with the protection of intelligence sources and methods.” The cyber emergency could last up to 30 days and be extended 30 days if the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC) Director and the President ‘ affirms that such measure or action remains necessary to address the continuing emergency.”

Detractors also point to actions that recently took place in Egypt, during which the Egyptian government shut down the nations internet in an attempt to control political unrest.

“The bill authorizes the NCCC, in an emergency declared by the President, to take unspecified emergency actions to preserve the reliable operation of particular covered critical infrastructure,” said the American Civil Liberties Union and twenty four other groups in a recent letter to congress. “The government can compel companies that own or operate critical infrastructure systems to take those undefined actions for 30‐day periods that may be renewed indefinitely. While the bill makes it clear that it does not authorize electronic surveillance beyond that authorized in current law, we are concerned that the emergency actions that could be compelled could include shutting down or limiting Internet communications that might be carried over covered critical infrastructure systems.”

The cosponsors of the bill say that this was not their intent as the bill was introduced before the unrest in Egypt.

"Some have suggested that our legislation would empower the president to deny U.S. citizens access to the Internet," said the statement from Sen. Lieberman, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sen. Senator Tom Carper, (D-DE). "Nothing could be further from the truth."

They said, however, that they'll make sure their forthcoming legislation will contain contains language prohibiting the president from doing what occurred in Egypt.

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  1. Avatar

    Tom DeReggi

    February 7, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    What is unclear is whether there is even a legitimate reasons to suggest the need for such Kill switch legislation. I cant think of any legitimate case where action of a President to initiate a kill switch would be required or even helpful, beyond what an ISP would already do on their own to inforce their AUP policy. If a Cyber Crime attack was incurring at a rate that effected network security or performance, ISPs would take action to stop it. It doesn’t take a law, to initiate action for a legitimate purpose, meaning one that does not violate civil liberties. No single entity should be able to control the Internet, not the US government, not a Monopoly provier, no one. But every company should have a firewall, backup diverse paths to the Internet, and a contingency plan in place on what they’d do if a Cyber Crime attack was launched that effected them. Today, the need to sustain broadband connectity for use, is just as important as stopping Internet connectivity from abuse. American Lives could be put at severe risk, if their broadband connectivity was stopped prematurely. (For example security systems, health monitoring systems, etc).Important decissions should be made by those most knowledgale about the details of whom would be effected and in what way those parties would get effected by the decission. The President is knowledgable on many matters, but he is NOT most knowledgable on the Internet, and what impact it would have if specific points of the Internet were turned off. ISPs would be much more knowledgeable on the purpose their customers used the Internet for, and on the design of their network, to determine the most appropriate place to correct the problem and minimize the impact to users. An Internet Kill switch would be like giving someone authority to bomb a building without first a requirement to look to see who was inside it. An Internet Kill Switch would be working blind. An INternet kill switch would maximize the harm (caused by the action) to the most consumers, compared to any viable methods of action to address an attack.

    The suggested method to stop the attack is wrong, as well as giving the authority to do so. What makes America great and Free, is our Presidents are not given the authority similar to that of a Dictatorship. Free Communication is the single most important factor that allows a Country to sustain Freedom. Pursuit of the truth is of the utmost importance to Law and Liberty. And ability to communicate and distribute the truth is what keeps everyone honest and truthful. Today, the Internet is probably the most dominant method of communication from and to the people, and in the spirit of the Constitution, communication should not be hindered, and protected at all costs. There is no better time to need the Internet for communication than during a time of crisis.

    If you ask me, the lawmakers are asking the wrong question, and getting it backwards. Instead of asking “how to stop the Internet in a crisis”, they need to be asking, “how can they better utilize the INternet to assist with handling the Crisis.”. The President could use the vast reach of social networks and Cyber press rooms, to better convey the urgent messages that need to be heard by the people.

  2. Avatar


    February 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    A “kill switch” for the Internet would not only affect the casual user, gamer or movie streaming buff, but be almost as devestating as a nationwide power outage. It would cripple hospitals, security monitoring, banking, local goverment ability to collect fees and taxes, red light cameras…on and on and on …..

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