Say no to a government 'kill switch' for the Internet

A proposed law would give the president sweeping new powers to shut down the Internet if he declares a 'cyber emergency'

I spend exactly zero time worrying that black helicopters will swoop down and impose a new world order. I don't believe that the CIA killed JFK, and I don't think the Air Force is hiding a UFO in the desert -- which is to say, I generally don't take conspiracy theories seriously.

But a proposed law that would give the government a so-killed kill switch to essentially turn off the public Internet is very, very worrisome, and it raises the specter of some future administration using that power to crack down on its opponents. Imagine if the Iranian government could have shut down the Internet a year ago -- it tried but failed -- when millions were protesting the rigged election and brutal suppression of dissidents.

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Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the 196-page Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (PCNAA) would require that private companies -- such as "broadband providers, search engines, and software firms -- immediately comply with any emergency measure or action" put in place by the Department of Homeland Security, or else face fines.

Am I missing something here? Is this less toxic that it sounds? Apparently not. It appears that Lieberman, not necessarily the smartest man in the Senate, does have an idea of how much power the bill would give to Washington. "Right now China, its government, can disconnect parts of its Internet in case of war, and we need to have that here, too," said Lieberman during an appearance on CNN last Sunday.

Now there's something to aspire to: the Chinese model of Internet security and free speech.

A bad idea that keeps coming back

This sort of bad idea has been floating around Congress for a while. A year ago, a couple of senators proposed the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, which would have given the government the power to shut the Web in an emergency and give it access to "all relevant data concerning [critical infrastructure] networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access."

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