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As I hit the kill switch, now that's how you let the beat build ...

Nancy Scola talks sense on Joe Lieberman's Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, which has been characterized as giving the president a "kill switch" to flip on the Internet.

A healthy skepticism is probably the appropriate response. ... People in the cybersecurity and intelligence worlds have been debating for decades now over whether the insecurity of the Internet cries out for greater government ability to intervene in Internet traffic (or maybe even the creation of separate networks for banking, energy, and other core parts of the life of the country). The Lieberman plan would, indeed, rely upon private owners and operators of critical digital infrastructure – “systems and assets … so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact” to pull the relevant definition from the PATRIOT Act – to develop emergency security plans that can be triggered by presidential order. In normal times, the Internet stays the Internet. But in recognition of its centrality to the American way of life, the president has the power to, say, order that traffic coming from China be blocked in a crisis. That’s not nothing.

If you feel like spending some time thinking about cybersecurity this morning, this transcript of a debate on the threat posed by cyber war is worth a read.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 24, 2010; 9:04 AM ET
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a lil' wayne reference? i'm disappointed.

Posted by: strobes | June 24, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Is this "kill switch" a good idea or a bad idea? Purported preparedness for war sometimes has a different, unstated, goal -- see for an example of such a preparedness effort. Is there a way to prevent the importation of potentially dangerous software without preventing the importation of potentially dangerous ideas?

Posted by: rmgregory | June 24, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

When thinking about this, I have to ask myself whether I would want President Bush's administration to have this authority. Would I entrust this responsibility to the Obama White House? Yes. Obama loves his blackberry and I don't think he would do anything to disrupt the internet unless there really was an accute attack. But what about in 2016?

Posted by: Levijohn | June 24, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse


you know I have issues with giving some Democrats (Ms Pelosi for example) access to taxes and spending but hey sometimes you don't control the future right?

Posted by: visionbrkr | June 24, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

There is no need for them to exercise control over private providers. The government has its own comm lines, they should look into making those available to banking/etc. in times of crisis, instead of trying to control something that is an asset of the people of the world.

On the other hand, my servers get 100s of failed logins every night from the other side of the world. The "war" is on. It's just not one we need these guys fighting.

Posted by: staticvars | June 24, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

I instead favor an internet driver's license.

I'd like to do away with anonymous internet traffic completely.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 24, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

ezra's just a man whose intentions are good...

Posted by: rodxyz | June 24, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

i love the Lil Wayne reference and the fact that you have good taste in hip hop. the hip hop breaks in the Wonkbook are always enjoyable.

Posted by: natethedrummer | June 24, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Speaking as a professional Network Engineer, there is no need for this ability. In fact, it's really not even possible for the President to do so. The only way to do it is to pass regulation that says all providers in the US must stop routing specific traffic when the Government says to. At that point, hundreds of people make thousands of changes to thousands of routers to make it happen. It's a manual process to do and undo these types of changes.

Now, if an actual multi target attack were going on, then we'd already know about it and be doing something about it. It happens everyday, and people like me make changes to firewalls and routers everyday to stop them. Institutions have real incentives, both legally and financially, to deal with attacks.

Regardless of how much Internet data the NSA is mining, the people who are responsible for these networks would be the ones informing the Government that such an attack is going on. They would also be the ones already doing something about it, and the President coming in and saying "Stop all traffic from country x." is meaningless and probably the wrong course of action.

This is meaningless feel good rhetoric.

Posted by: DamonConway | June 24, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I instead favor an internet driver's license.

I'd like to do away with anonymous internet traffic completely.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 24, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

no worries you'd be caught up in that web there Lom?

Posted by: visionbrkr | June 24, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I too would like to praise and encourage Ezra in the behavior of awesome hip hop references.

Posted by: MosBen | June 24, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

There might be some need for this capability. I'm open to being persuaded, although my initial reaction is to recoil a little. But I have to say, there's probably not a worse person you could pick to sell it. Joe Lieberman is not known as a particularly strong defender of First Amendment rights. A moralistic scold who built his career on advocating government censorship wants to put a "kill switch" on the Internet? No thank you...

Posted by: NS12345 | June 24, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I would gladly sign up for such a license. I may not be as loud-mouthed in that case as I am now though. :-)

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 24, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Had fallen behind on my RSS feeds but got to this post this morning while wonking out and had to take a Weezy intermission! Now proceeding again.

Posted by: ChrisFinger | June 25, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

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