We've all heard the inconvenient falsehood of how Al Gore invented the Internet. However, the truth is, there's a proposed Senate cybersecurity bill in the works that would grant President Obama the power to shut down the Internet. This includes both public and private networks.
Imagine the damage to our economy if the Internet were shut down for any extended period.
The Senate bill, first introduced in April by Senator John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), and now co-sponsored by Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), touched off a storm of debate over how much power the President should have to control the operation of "critical infrastructure." It includes language giving Obama the authority to direct responses to cyber attacks and declare a cyber emergency.
Critics insist sweeping presidential power over the Internet is bad for America since private networks — which much of our economy runs on — could be shut down by government order. In addition, those same networks could be subject to government mandated security standards and technical configurations. This is NOT a good thing folks.
The original bill included the words: "The President may....order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from any compromised Federal government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network."
A second draft of the bill, which has not yet been released publicly, rearranges those words, according to CNet, and contains even more convoluted language concerning the President's control over private computer networks. It qualifies his authority to include "strategic national interests involving compromised Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network," but says he may "direct the national response to the cyber threat" in coordination with "relevant industry sectors."
The reference to “relevant industry sectors” is new in the second draft — and is undefined. The bill still includes language that would have the President directing the "timely restoration of the affected critical infrastructure information system or network."
And who exactly will determine what both “critical and "timely restoration" means?
Earlier this year, critics expressed concern over potentially giving the President power to tell private network operators when they could turn their systems back on after a cybersecurity threat. When the bill was originally released Leslie Harris, president and CEO at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), which promotes democratic values and constitutional liberties for the digital age, was quoted as saying, "We are confident that the communication networks and the Internet would be so designated [as critical infrastructure], so in the interest of national security the president could order them disconnected."
Network World sources said Rockefeller's Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee, which includes Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), spent much of the recent Senate recess meeting with stakeholders and groups that had problems with the first draft of the bill. While who was included in those meetings is unclear, stakeholders could be expected to encompass large service provider networks such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, AOL, and others that offer online services and applications to corporations and consumers. As far back as April, Google confirmed it was studying the legislation.
This cybersecurity bill is very much in its early stages, but it bears watching.