Thoughts on the Bill to Give the President Emergency Control Over the Internet

There is a bill in the Senate that, in short, would grant the President of the United States the power to attempt to control the Internet in the event of an emergency. You can read all about it on cnet.

I’ve been staring at this article for days, and intentionally waited to respond to it so that I could have a level head… because as anyone who has been following this blog knows, this kind of bill upsets me on a very deep level.

Before I give my response, here is what Jena Longo, Deputy Communications Director for the Senate Commerce Committee had to say about the general concern and anger coming from us net folks:

The president of the United States has always had the constitutional authority, and duty, to protect the American people and direct the national response to any emergency that threatens the security and safety of the United States. The Rockefeller-Snowe Cybersecurity bill makes it clear that the president’s authority includes securing our national cyber infrastructure from attack. The section of the bill that addresses this issue, applies specifically to the national response to a severe attack or natural disaster. This particular legislative language is based on longstanding statutory authorities for wartime use of communications networks. To be very clear, the Rockefeller-Snowe bill will not empower a “government shutdown or takeover of the Internet” and any suggestion otherwise is misleading and false. The purpose of this language is to clarify how the president directs the public-private response to a crisis, secure our economy and safeguard our financial networks, protect the American people, their privacy and civil liberties, and coordinate the government’s response (cnet).

In no small terms, this is a bad bill.

First and foremost, it states an unachievable goal. Controlling the Internet really isn’t possible. Sections could be controlled, but there will always be knowledgeable people who will be able to circumvent any control system. Such is the nature of a distributed network. However, the goal being unachievable doesn’t take away from that fact that trying is still tyrannical.

Second, if the technological argument doesn’t work for you, let’s look at the general nature of politics. Let’s say, for argument sake you believe that Barack Obama can do no wrong (or at the very least, means very well). You think that granting this man the power to take control over the Internet isn’t a problem because he is such a good guy, and you trust his judgment. I am not saying that he is, but I have no doubt that there are people in the US who do believe that. Would you grant these same powers to the next President? What about George W. Bush? Would you feel comfortable with him having these powers?

Don’t grant powers that you wouldn’t want in the hands of the other side. Inevitably someone you don’t like, and don’t agree with will be President.

Third, what constitutes a “severe attack or natural disaster?” Who decides that? It’s not always as clear as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. I’m sure that civil disobedience could be construed as a severe attack.

This is vague, dangerous, and tyrannical bill.

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