In the wake of the Egyptian Internet blackout, which sparked anti-government protests, American senators have proposed legislation that would grant President Barack Obama a “kill switch” power to shut down the Internet should the U.S. suffer a cyber attack. The blackouts in Egypt were intended to stop the demonstrations in the country, but instead, shutting off the people of Egypt from the rest of the world resulted in mass riots.
Senators caution the American people that the “kill switch” would not be used to create blackouts like those in Egypt. Rather, it would be intended to aid the government should a cyber attack occur. This proposed power is included in the revised Cybersecurity Act of 2009, originally proposed by Senator Jay Rockefeller.
So what’s the difference between the Internet control enforced by Egypt’s government and the control that could potentially be given to ours? According to a Fox News article:
“‘In the original bill they empowered the president to essentially turn off the Internet in the case of a ‘cyber-emergency,’ which they didn’t define,’ said Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance, which represents the telecommunications industry.”
So, essentially, the difference lies not in the power itself, but in how that power is used, which is dangerous territory to put ourselves in. However, co-sponsor of the bill, Senator Susan Collins, assures American citizens that this internet control will only be used in an emergency and will not be used for censorship. An article in the Daily Mail titled “Call to give Obama ‘kill switch’ powers to cut internet access in the event of national cyber crisis,” states, “She (Collins) said it would ‘provide a mechanism for the government to work with the private sector in the event of a true cyber emergency.'” Still, many concerned citizens are skeptical of relinquishing more power to the government.
This evokes memories of the Patriot Act, which gave the government the power to listen to phone calls without probable cause. While not exactly the same, the issue of “How far will it go?” seems to be the same fear. In the same Daily Mail article, Joe Lieberman, who serves as Chairman of Homeland Security, supports the act and says that it is needed to “preserve those networks and assets and our country and protect our people.”
It seems that until further guidelines regarding what constitutes a “cyber emergency” are given, it will be hard to weigh in with an educated opinion. But in light of the current political situation in Egypt, the odds of it faring well amongst American citizens aren’t looking too good.
Gardner, David . “Call to give Obama ‘kill switch’ powers to cut internet access in the event of national cyber crisis.” Mail Online. 1 Feb. 2009. 2 Feb. 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1352375/Plan-Obama-kill-switch-powers-cut-internet-access-event-national-cyber-crisis.html
“Senate Bill Would Give President Emergency Control of Internet.” Fox News. 28 Aug. 2009. 2 Feb. 2011. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/08/28/senate-president-emergency-control-internet/
Tsukayama, Hayley . “How Egypt pulled out of the Internet.” Washinton Post. 28 Jan. 2011. 2 Feb. 2011. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/2011/01/how_egypt_fell_off_the_interne.html