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'

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In effect it would have allowed, or maybe mandated, that back doors be built into private networks in case the government needed access in a hurry.

That bill was sidetracked during the health care debate, but the senators who sponsored it, Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), support this version. Snowe has even signed on as a co-sponsor, saying at a press conference, "We cannot afford to wait for a cyber 9/11 before our government realizes the importance of protecting our cyber resources."

A price too high to pay
Yes, cyber attacks on this country's infrastructure are a serious potential threat, and it's reasonable to give the government the power to protect us. Certainly the apparent Russia-based cyber attacks on Georgia and Estonia show that cyber war, including massive DoS attacks, is more than science fiction.

Lieberman's bill, though, would create another bureaucracy within the already cumbersome bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security. It would be called the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC).

Bureaucracies have a bad track record when it comes to protecting individual rights. Just think how many innocent Americans have been denied the right to get on an airplane because they were mistakenly put on a no-fly list by Homeland Security. Once a bureaucracy labels someone a bad actor, getting the nameless, faceless functionaries to correct an error can be nearly impossible.

The bill has a provision that would grant broadband providers immunity from civil lawsuits if they cut service to a customer on the orders of the NCCC. At first glance that may seem reasonable, but the grant of immunity will make it that much harder for innocent people to gain redress if the bureaucracy makes a mistake.

As I said, I'm not a believer in conspiracies, and as much as I dislike this bill, I don't think that Lieberman and his co-sponsors are gearing up for some sort of dictatorship. But, there's no telling what the political landscape will look like in the future. In an age where the Internet has become one of the most important means of political expression, giving the government the power to shut it down is giving it the power to stifle free speech and dissent.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net.

This article, "Say no to a government 'kill switch' for the Internet," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com.

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