The provision is troubling because it basically gives DHS new authority over private communication networks in emergency situations, she said. A takeover of private networks for government communications purposes during a crisis could degrade or severely compromise the civilian population's ability to communicate in an emergency, she maintained.
"This specific authority is something that should have been granted through Congress," rather than through executive order, Stepanovic noted.
The Obama directive comes at a time when opinion appears divided on the extent of authority the government should have over the Internet and communications networks, in a crisis. Last year, several lawmakers proposed a bill that would have given the President the authority to quarantine or even shut down parts of the Internet in the event of a massive cyber attack on critical infrastructure targets.
Proponents of the bill argued the bill was nothing more than a common-sense measure aimed at protecting critical Internet assets in an attack. But opponents argued that the bill would give the President an unprecedented Internet "kill switch" that could be pulled anytime.
Opinion was similarly divided earlier this year, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sought comments from the public on the government's authority to shut down wireless networks in an emergency.
Supporters of the idea argued that targeted wireless shutdowns were vital to protecting public safety. Organizations such as the CTIA, The Wireless Association, maintained that in certain emergency situations a service interruption might be necessary to prevent or stop a life-threatening emergency.
Others dismissed such arguments, saying that any government-directed wireless shutdowns would infringe upon First Amendment rights to protected speech, and impose unconstitutional prior restraints on speech.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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