The sudden trend to shut off internet access in response to civilian unrest and opposition protests, which has recently emerged among Middle Eastern governments, will not extend to the United States. That is the aim of new legislation proposed by Senators Joseph Lieberman and Susan Collins, which will prohibit the idea of an “internet kill switch” in the U.S. government.
The Cyber Security and Internet Freedom Act of 2011 comes in response to recent government discussion about power over the internet. After governments in Egypt and Libya disconnected the internet in their respective countries, and cyber security officials continue to warn about growing threats facing government networks, some high-ranking military and political officials had weighed the option of providing the federal government the power to cut off internet access. This bill appears to be the first sign of action in the debate and is vehemently opposed to the measure.
“While the United States must ensure the security of our nation and its critical infrastructure, it must do so in a manner that does not deprive Americans of the ability to lawfully read or express their views,” Collins, a Maine Republican, said in a statement delivered on the floor. “Neither the president nor any other federal official should have the authority to ‘shut down’ the internet.”
Senator Lieberman stressed that point even further, explaining that the bill was proposed quickly as part of an effort to dispell any rumors or misconceptions about the approach the federal government should take toward cyber security.
“We want to clear the air once and for all. As someone said recently, the term ‘kill switch’ has become the ‘death panels’ of the cyber security debate. There is no so-called ‘kill switch’ in our legislation because the very notion is antithetical to our goal of providing precise and targeted authorities to the president,” Lieberman said.
The debate has been ongoing for weeks, apparently set off by the measures taken in Egpyt. Earlier this month, Gregory Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a watchdog organization, testified before the House Armed Services Subcommittee about the dangers of shutting off U.S. internet access. Congressman Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas, favored the option to shut off internet access and compared it to the military power required in the face of a weapons strike. Nojeim, however, maintained that unforeseen effects could make a situation worse, as the internet is also the main medium of modern communication.
Collins, in promoting the Cyber Security and Internet Freedom Act of 2011, appears to have heard Nojeim’s call to protect free speech, even on the internet.
“Freedom of speech is a fundamental right that must be protected, and his ban was clearly designed to limit criticisms of his government. Our cyber security legislation is intended to protect the United States from external cyber attacks,” Collins said.