Obama Quietly Gives Himself Power to Seize Internet

Wednesday, 11 Jul 2012 08:29 PM

By Todd Beamon

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Another late-Friday afternoon release from the White House — this one on how agencies should communicate with the public in emergencies — has Internet privacy advocates crying foul over a possible power grab.

The executive order — “Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions” — was released last Friday in the late afternoon. The Friday before, the White House issued data showing that its payroll had increased 14.1 percent over the last year of the Bush administration.

President Barack Obama’s new order outlines procedures for government agencies to follow in preparing plans so they can communicate with “the public, allies, and other nations” should a national crisis occur, CNBC reports.

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Essentially, it says the government can take control of private telecommunications technology, presumably including those used for the Internet, for government communications in an emergency.

“Under the Executive Order the White House has … granted the Department [of Homeland Security] the authority to seize private facilities when necessary, effectively shutting down or limiting civilian communications,” wrote the Electronic Privacy Information Center in a blog post.

This is what has Internet privacy advocates worried. They say the document represents a power grab on behalf of the federal government, CNBC reports.

They’re particularly concerned about language like this, from section 5.2(e): “The Secretary of Homeland Security shall … satisfy priority communications requirements through the use of commercial, Government, and privately owned communications resources, when appropriate.”

But White House officials told CNBC that the order does nothing more than update existing authority dating from a 1984 executive order signed by Ronald Reagan to reflect modern communications technology.

No new expansions of authority come in the order, they said, and the measure just directs agencies to develop plans for the government should they need to communicate with the public during a natural emergency like a nuclear attack or terrorist strike.

“The Internet is an international network of networks; no one person, organization or country can control or shut down the Internet,” a government official wrote in an email to CNBC.

“The United States relies on the Internet to perform essential functions including to operate critical infrastructure and to maintain essential national security capabilities. That is why the President has designated our digital infrastructure as a strategic national asset.

“This Order is about communications resilience — the Administration’s goal is to maintain this connected environment during the worst disasters, even in circumstances when our adversaries may wish to deprive us of their use,” the email said.

But that did not satisfy everyone. The Daily Caller that the federal government already has its own emergency communications network, the National Communications System, which allows members of the federal government to make use of private carriers during the event of a disaster.

And the blog ExtremeTech asked, "If there’s a possible terrorist threat, is that grounds for locking down the US cellular carriers? If Iran attacks the US with a Stuxnet-like virus, is that grounds for the disabling of core internet routers?"

Editor's Note: Will Obama Be Defeated? Vote Here!

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