Bill Seeks to Give President Control of the Internet in an Emergency

In internet, Technology, U.S government on August 29, 2009 by Editor Z

Interest groups left, right, and center. Those who stood alongside Bush/Cheney when they took steps in the direction that many viewed as taking liberties with civil liberties, torture, rendition, and wiretapping; are now voicing opposition to a proposal that would in an emergency allow the President of the United States to seize control of the internet in an emergency, investing in him the authority to declare a cyber emergency and possibly disconnect non-government comnputers and internet providers.

Proponents of such a measure say that the President already has similar powers over other aspects of the national infrastructure, citing then President Bush’s ability and orders in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to ground all civilian related aircraft from taking to the air. That so much data and so many transactions of commerce and security in the age we live in take place or are stored on the internet, that a cyber attack could reek havoc on the country.

But opponents assert that it could place more hands in the power of the federal government and is authority that could either be severely abused or lead to regulation of the internet.

Internet companies and civil liberties groups were alarmed this spring when a U.S. Senate bill proposed handing the White House the power to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet.

They’re not much happier about a revised version that aides to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, have spent months drafting behind closed doors. CNET News has obtained a copy of the 55-page draft of S.773 (excerpt), which still appears to permit the president to seize temporary control of private-sector networks during a so-called cybersecurity emergency.

The new version would allow the president to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” relating to “non-governmental” computer networks and do what’s necessary to respond to the threat. Other sections of the proposal include a federal certification program for “cybersecurity professionals,” and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.

“I think the redraft, while improved, remains troubling due to its vagueness,” said Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance, which counts representatives of Verizon, Verisign, Nortel, and Carnegie Mellon University on its board. “It is unclear what authority Sen. Rockefeller thinks is necessary over the private sector. Unless this is clarified, we cannot properly analyze, let alone support the bill.”

Representatives of other large Internet and telecommunications companies expressed concerns about the bill in a teleconference with Rockefeller’s aides this week, but were not immediately available for interviews on Thursday.

This is no doubt disturbing. This combined with Obama’s decision to allow authorities to continue with the Bush/Cheney policy allowing officials to seize the laptops of travelers at airports, shows that fear and the guise of national security is the area where citizens must remain the most vigilant and where their is the most potential for possibly irreversible abuses and injustices. It is the field where government has the greatest power and often times where the interests of government and the interests of the individual are most at odds. Conservatives and those who say they are most concerned about the scope and expanse of government should be more worried about actions and policies such as these, then excessive spending or taxation which well may be excessive, but can easily be reigned in and either truncated or eliminated.

Many of the conservatives now ridiculously say we are heading towards fascism because Obama and the congress are spending so much money and they want healthcare reform. Well governments spending and living within in our means is a legitimate issue, I hardly think that qualifies as the central tennet of Fascism or totalitarian ideology.

Two more points. First well the security of information on the internet is something worthy of thought and perhaps necessary, in this age of the Executive branch of government amassing sweeping powers in the name of national security, the ineptitude and abuses that have taken place as a result of this shows that a policy of this magnitude granted to a single branch of government with few safe guards, ample ambiguity, and that could curtail and control the flow of information to citizens; this is the sort of power that could be abused and shouldn’t be granted to a responsible government. In the words of one opponent of FDR’s court packing effort “it is more power then any bad man should have, and more power then any good man should want.”

Personally I would agree with those conservatives who voice strident opposition to this (hyperbole aside). Having said that, where the hell were you when the previous administration laid the foundation, precedent, and even took other sweeping measures (torture, rendition, Guantanamo, warantless wiretappings, spying on Quakers; etc)? Because when extreme power is put in the hands of one President it is transferred and allowed to grow in the hands of every President that comes after.



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