A proposed cyber-security bill is stoking fears over the creation of a presidential "Internet kill switch." The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 (S. 3480), which now moves to the Senate floor for a full vote.
The bill, PCMag.com reports, calls for the creation of an office of cyberspace policy within the White House as well as a new arm of the Homeland Security Department to oversee cyber-security policies.
But the bill's most eye-catching provision grants the president the power to "authorize emergency measures to protect the nation's most critical infrastructure if a cyber vulnerability is being exploited or is about to be exploited."Despite the imprecise wording, many believe this section actually gives the president an "Internet kill switch" that would essentially allow him to shut down the Web during an emergency.
"While the bill makes it clear that it does not authorize electronic surveillance beyond that authorized in current law, we are concerned that the emergency actions that could be compelled could include shutting down or limiting Internet communications that might be carried over covered critical infrastructure systems," said a letter sent to the committee and signed by more than 20 disparate groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
The bill, the groups say, should be amended to spell out precisely what actions the government can take vis-à-vis the Internet during an emergency.
Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the bill's sponsor, dismissed the Internet kill switch accusations as "misinformation" during an appearance on CNN.
The committee also published a "myth vs. reality" fact sheet on the bill, which said the bill "would make it far less likely for a President to use the broad authority he already has in current law to take over communications networks."
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