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1Feb/110

Internet Killswitch A Good Idea or Bad?

Obama Internet KillswitchWondering how an internet killswitch would work? Why not try it out on an entire country then? That is exactly what happened in Egypt last week as the government pulled the plug on the entire country's internet connection, and it is also something that has been proposed to give President Obama the right to do so for a few years now.

Such a proposal would literally give the president the power to kill the internet in America. It has been noted that the emergency procedures would be overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, the same organization that supports the enhanced TSA pat-down system.

However, timing of new proposed legislature could not have been worse as less than 24 hours after Senate Democrats sent out a press release outlining their plans for the future legislation to "safeguard" the internet Egypt went offline. And we see how well that is going.

By the afternoon of that day, nearly every single provider in Egypt ceased to publish information about electronic routes to their networks, making them unreachable worldwide. The Noor Group, apparently the only unaffected network, followed in line and dropped out as well yesterday. Clients for Noor consisted of ExxonMobile, Toyota, Hyatt, Coca-Cola, the American University in Cairo and the Egyptian Stock Exchange.

This has caused more difficulties for the U.S. legislation as the revolt of nearly 60 million people was followed so closely on Twitter and Facebook. The legislation is coming under so much scrutiny that some are even calling it a "killswitch for capitalism".

According to Berin Szoka of the TechFreedom think tank in Washington D.C. , "It's difficult for the U.S. to criticize an autocrat like Hosni Mubarak for shutting down the internet if we give our own president similarly sweeping powers. Even if that never, ever happens here, our having such laws on the books certainly makes it more likely other governments will gain, and abuse, such powers."

A draft of a Senate proposal from 2009 authorized the White House to "declare a cybersecurity emergency", and another from Senator Jay Rockefeller (D - W.V.) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R - Maine) explicitly gave the government the power to "order the disconnection" of certain networks or websites. House Democrats are taking similar approaches.

A Senate committee in December approved a bill that was introduced last summer and is scheduled to be re-introduced sometime soon by Senators Joseph Lieberman (I - Conn) and Susan Collins (R - Maine) which would give President Obama power over privately-owned computer systems during a "national cyber emergency". The latest public version included some controversial new language stating that the federal government's designation of vital Internet or other computer systems "shall not be subject to judicial review".

The "Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act" works like this: Homeland Security will "establish and maintain a list of systems or assets that constitute covered critical infrastructure". This is what will be subject to emergency decrees. President Obama would then have the power to issue a state of national cyber emergency.

Liberman and Collins issued a statement that argued that their bill would not give the White House a "killswitch". Instead it would provide a "precise, targeted and focused way for the president to defend our most sensitive infrastructure." The forthcoming legislation from the Democrats is still hazy on which direction it will go or whether it will be thrown into a single package or voted upon separately. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated last week that, along with chairmen of seven committees, he pledged to act swiftly due to the fact that a cybersecurity emergency could have a devastating impact on the economy.

Source: CNET ; Photo Courtesy of Freaking News

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