Bill Would Give President Power to Disconnect Private-sector Computers from the Internet

Friday, August 28, 2009

Obama 2008

Internet companies and civil liberties groups are alarmed by a U.S. Senate bill which would cede power to President Obama to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet.

A revised version of the bill by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) behind closed doors (see excerpt), appears to permit the president to seize temporary control of private-sector networks when the White House during a so-called cybersecurity emergency.

The new bill allows the president to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” relating to “non-governmental” computer networks and do what’s necessary to respond to the threat. Other sections of the proposal include a Federal certification program for “cybersecurity professionals,” and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.

According to Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance, which counts representatives of Verizon, Verisign, Nortel, and Carnegie Mellon University on its board:

“I think the redraft, while improved, remains troubling due to its vagueness. It is unclear what authority Sen. Rockefeller thinks is necessary over the private sector. Unless this is clarified, we cannot properly analyze, let alone support the bill.”

A spokesman for Rockefeller declined to comment on the record Thursday, saying that many people were unavailable because of the summer recess. A Senate source familiar with the bill compared the president’s power to take control of portions of the Internet to what President Bush did when grounding all aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001.

When Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced the original bill in April, they claimed it was vital to protect national cybersecurity:

“We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs, from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records.”

Rockefeller’s “all costs” legislation raises troubling concerns about the role of the Federal government in achieving its goal to address the very real threat cybersecurity and limitations on privacy.

Lee Tien, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco says:

“As soon as you’re saying that the Federal government is going to be exercising this kind of power over private networks, it’s going to be a really big issue.”

Arguably, the most controversial language begins in Section 201, which permits the president to “direct the national response to the cyber threat,” if necessary for “the national defense and security.” The White House is supposed to engage in “periodic mapping” of private networks deemed to be critical, and those companies “shall share” requested information with the Federal government. “Cyber” is defined as anything to do with the Internet, telecommunications, computers, or computer networks.

Does this include bloggers and Americans who participate on social networking communities like Facebook and Twitter? Such concentrated power in the hands of this, or any other president, is not change that I can believe in.

This entry was posted in Civil Rights, Cybersecurity, International News, Internet, News, President Barack Obama, Privacy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Bill Would Give President Power to Disconnect Private-sector Computers from the Internet

  1. Joaquin says:

    This is one very effective way to silence his critics. Obama can claim it’s a matter of national security – a la George Bush, and pull the plug on the internet. I am very worried about this level of power in the hands of a president.

  2. Rachel says:

    Obama did vote for FISA 1 and FISA 2. He’s much more of a Clinton centrist than many of the Obamaholics care to admit. Rockefeller’s bill is not a step to enshrine privacy and limit government. It’s the opposite. You should expect people to say you’ve been watching too much Glenn Beck. After all, the great Obama would try to out-do George W. Bush?

  3. Peace Nick says:

    I thought net neutrality and blogger’s privacy had been settled?

    Why is Sen. Rockefeller working with Sen. Olympia Snowe to restrict and limit privacy? The rubric of national security was exploited shamelessly during the Bush years. Hasn’t Obama learned anything?

    There’s an old adage that says, “the government who governs the least, is embraced the most.”

  4. Mauigirl says:

    Sounds like a bad idea to me! Hopefully it won’t pass in its current form.

  5. Walk on Socks says:

    Another timely and excellent blog piece, Christopher.

    We all need to be aware of any limitations placed on our freedoms and our privacy. It really doesn’t matter if the locus of the clamp down originates from a Democrat or a Republican.

    Remember, Rockefeller is a fairly shady cat. He’s admitted to going to Syria to conduct his own foreign policy initiative, warning Assad that Bush planned to invade Iraq and could not be stopped. This gave Assad plenty of time to speak to Saddam Hussein and prepare for war.

    Separate from how you feel/felt about the U.S. invading Iraq, the argument could be made that Rockefeller’s action allowed Saddam to open the borders to al Qaeda. Once in place, the opposition effort was greater than what might have been if Saddam didn’t get an advance alert to the Bush’s intentions.

    This bill is the equivalent of installing a switch to our freedom. Any cheep reason could be used to flip the switch, this is yet another tool being installed to help put into place for the express purpose of complete government take over.

    What we should glean from this is Rockefeller has little respect for the constitution. This bill all but installs a switch on our rights and liberties and allows President Obama exclusive access to the switch.

  6. R.J. says:

    What? Me worry? The guy I voted for is in power.

    This is brilliant. Why not do a little fear mongering on conservatives? Let them squirm and bitch and moan when they can’t log onto Free Republic or Stormfront for once.

  7. D.R.Scott says:

    No, I don’t regret voting for Obama, but I’m getting a little nervous. Ralph Nader must be laughing his ass off, though.

  8. Or vomiting 24/7, D.R. Scott. Thing is, we have managed so far without government’s big fucking hand on the plug, and that’s before all of the attention, money and coordination with regard to cyber security. Christ, the internet as we know it has been around for more than 15 years. So, should we all agree to meet at a certain location in the event the man closes down the tubes?

  9. Woodcliffe says:

    I have a big house and an even bigger yard.

    If the computers are even unhooked by the Great and Powerful Obama, everyone can come to my place so we can plan out strategy.

    Since I know there are readers here from every state in the country, maybe we should have regional meet-up locations?

  10. libhomo says:

    This bill is dangerous and goes against American values, including those mandated in the Constitution.

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