Bill to Give Obama Internet ‘Kill Switch’ Returns

Tuesday, 25 Jan 2011 03:31 PM

By Dan Weil

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A bill giving President Barack Obama an Internet “kill switch” in case of an emergency is returning after its first introduction last year, and this version will prohibit any review by the courts, reports.

Obama, internet, kill, switchThe original bill was sponsored last year by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. Lieberman is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

As for the new bill, "We're not trying to mandate any requirements for the entire Internet, the entire Internet backbone," Brandon Milhorn, Republican staff director and counsel for the committee, said at a Washington, D.C. conference. Rather, the idea is to impose government control only over those "crucial components that form our nation's critical infrastructure."

The full Senate didn’t act on last year’s bill. The new version says the federal government's decision as to which Internet or other computer systems are vital "shall not be subject to judicial review." The new bill also widens the definition of critical infrastructure to include "provider of information technology."

The bill isn’t the first proposal for the president to have an Internet "kill switch." A draft Senate proposal obtained by CNET in August 2009 allowed the White House to "declare a cyber security emergency." And Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, proposed giving the government power to "order the disconnection" of certain networks or Web sites. House Democrats made similar proposals.

Civil libertarians and some industry representatives have expressed fears about giving the executive branch such broad emergency power. Meanwhile, some companies, including Microsoft, Verizon, and EMC, supported the bill’s initial version.

But the change in the bill last month that bans court reviews has worried some companies. "Judicial review is our main concern," Steve DelBianco, director of the NetChoice coalition, which includes eBay, Oracle, Verisign, and Yahoo, tells "A designation of critical information infrastructure brings with it huge obligations for upgrades and compliance."

An Internet kill switch could cause more problems than it solves, according to a new report by the London School of Economics and University of Oxford.

"We think that a largely military approach to cyber security is a mistake," says report co-author Ian Brown of the Oxford Internet Institute, according to "Most targets in the critical national infrastructure of communications, energy, finance, food, government, health, transport, and water are in the private sector."

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