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Posted at 11:40 AM ET, 02/ 4/2011

Experts weigh in on 'kill switch' legislation

By Hayley Tsukayama

Last week, Wired reported that senators were planning to reintroduce legislation that would give the federal government some power to limit Internet traffic in the event of a cyber-security emergency.

In the last session of Congress, senators proposed a national center for cyber security run by an executive with the authority to order private companies to shut down critical infrastructure, including the Web.

This session, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), along with several co-sponsors, introduced the "Cyber Security and American Cyber Competitiveness Act of 2011." Many see it as placeholder bill for a redrafted version of last year's proposal.

That move drew a lot of attention when the world watched the Egyptian government shut down all Internet access as protesters took to the streets. Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) issued a statement on Tuesday decrying the Egypt's actions and clarifying that they believe the bill would not grant the president the same power to interfere with free Web access.

Still, the bill as proposed has experts concerned.

Greg Nojeim, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's Project on Freedom, Security and Technology, said the bill is focused on cyber security emergency measures, not on squelching dissent. But he said the measure is not sufficient to ensure that such power to control Internet access is not abused.

"What if the authority the bill gives the government to shut down or limit Internet traffic was abused?" Nojeim said. "What would be the remedy? The bill does not allow for a remedy. There's no authority for an objective decision-maker to ensure the decision ... is properly based on a true emergency."

Nojeim is concerned that the bill's only limit is that the period of authorized emergency is 30 days -- a time frame that can be extended to 120 days. After that, Congress would have to approve a continued emergency. By the time the first real limitation on these powers kicked in, Nojeim said, four months would have gone by.

"There ought to be a way to deal with a shutdown order that should not have been issued in the first place," he said.

Tim Karr, campaign director for the media reform nonprofit Free Press, agreed that the legislation lacks specificity and has weak checks on executive power. Not only does the bill not define what constitutes and emergency, he said, "there's no sufficient appeal process for operators."

"The government is looking broadly at the new reality of anti-government hackers, they're looking at WikiLeaks," Karr said. "They're also granting broad authority to act against an as yet undefined threat." Because the bill empowers the executive to do whatever is necessary, Karr said, If the director decides to block or limit Internet traffic, there's no clear route for an appeal.

"This essentially gives unchecked authority to the executive branch to shut down an engine for free speech, he said. "There are First Amendment issues that are not sufficiently addressed" in the legislation.

Karr said that Free Press is pressing Lieberman and Collins to make changes to the bill before reintroducing it. The group would like to see something that explicitly prevents the executive branch from turning off infrastructure.

Nojeim said that CDT opposes any shutdown authorization.

"Owners and operators of critical infrastructure know their systems the best, and know better than the government when they need to be shut down," he said, adding that giving the government shutdown authority would create perverse incentives. Instead of immediately shutting down a system in an emergency, an operator might wait until a shutdown order was issued to limit the operator's liability for any problems the block causes.

Karr said he was glad to hear White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs's comments last week that shutting off access to the internet and to social networking violated the rights of the Egyptian people.

"We hope that Gibbs's statement is reflected in the policy," he said. "Free Press fundamentally believes, as does Press Secretary Gibbs, that access to the Internet and social networking is a fundamental right. No power should be able to take that away."

By Hayley Tsukayama  | February 4, 2011; 11:40 AM ET
Categories:  cyber security, internet  
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Comments

This idea is outrageous. What "emergency" could possibly occur that would require the government to shut down the entire nation's internet infrastructure, or even a part of it?

This is just the latest example of government using fear of the bogeyman to induce people to give up power to the government. Once the government has this power, it will think of all sorts of occasions and scenarios to use it. Authority granted is authority used.

Until someone can provide an authoritative and widely accepted definition of what constitutes such an emergency that would require shutting down the internet in response, this idea is a disaster for our country and our freedom.

No government should have this level of authority, especially the government of a nation that prides its freedom.

Posted by: Diamond104 | February 4, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Nazi Germany, here we come.

Posted by: rcubedkc | February 4, 2011 12:19 PM | Report abuse

They are complete idiots for thinking they can shut down the internet in the US. They can't, and it'll never happen. All this shows is how truly stupid these legislators are about the technology.

Posted by: Nymous | February 4, 2011 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Only Al Gore can shut down the internet.

Posted by: FLvet | February 4, 2011 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Bad idea for the government to even think they can do this. I suggest these idiotic legislators work on fixing the economy and leave the internet alone.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | February 4, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Nymous is correct. The only people affected by a US kill switch on the Internet would be the casual end users. The power users and network savvy technical types would easily find a work-around, just as the foreign media did in Egypt to get their material out. Similarly, the cyber-terrorists that they are trying to thwart with the kill switch will also find a work-around.

This reminds me of the fig-leaf security that we put into place on airlines after 9-11. It has been proven to be totally ineffectual at preventing new attacks. Only dumb luck has prevented the shoe bombers, the underwear bombers, and the shampoo and mouthwash mixer bombers from bringing down another airliner.

Posted by: hisroc | February 4, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Nazi Germany has nothing up on the worst Congress in US history.
MU barack move over...the US Fed is worse for quash on free speech.

Posted by: dottydo | February 4, 2011 1:36 PM | Report abuse

The power even to threaten shutdowns--especially selective ones--would confer a de facto power of prior restraint which could lead to self-censorship.

Posted by: scientist1 | February 4, 2011 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Nazi Germany has nothing up on the worst Congress in US history.
MU barack move over...the US Fed is worse for quash on free speech.

Wapo already uses POST TECH kill.

Posted by: dottydo | February 4, 2011 1:37 PM | Report abuse

In this instance, the idiots are not government officials but the American public, who think this can't happen here in the U.S. Who knew we tortured? Who knew we renditioned? Who knew we started preemptive wars under bogus pretenses? Who ever thought there would be cameras on street corners watching your every move? Who knew that the American public would roll over, play dead and accept everything that was said in the name of national security? Who ever thought you'd need to get nearly stip searched in order to board an airplane in the USA? By not questioning or protesting any of these practices they are all now common occurences. The same may be true in the future regarding internet access. Or lack thereof.

Posted by: DrFish | February 4, 2011 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Holy barn door. Dismiss Madame Secretary and Gates before further embarrassment gets out of their supposedly secure files. Don't punish the people for their errors.

Posted by: phvr38 | February 4, 2011 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Government just can't STAND anything they can't control, can they?

Unfortunately, they only have to couch their greed for more control in terms of "security", and they have instant support of vast herds of frightened sheep, who would offer up anything for a hollow promise to be kept safe.

Posted by: info53 | February 4, 2011 2:14 PM | Report abuse

..all the gov and business have to do to protect their computers is to install a close loop system;;therefore no need for a kill switch;;our gov sees the writing on the wall;;30 yrs of lost jobs and wages and illegals;;well they know we r heading for the streets;;so people get the ham radios going;;the walkie/talkies and the c/b,s ;;nothing wrong with smoke signals;;plus their spying on us is impossible w/out the internet;;so that will aid us even more !!redress gov;;a usa constr.right !!

Posted by: bbccmm | February 4, 2011 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Since the internet is the ultimate technology to promote freedom of speech, what's needed is an amendment irrevocably assigning freedom of the Internet to the First Amendment, so government will NEVER be able to get their grubby mitts on it.

Posted by: info53 | February 4, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

For those who see a sinister government plot behind this, relax. You give our government far too much credit for cunning and stealth. The truth is that the cyber-threat to our infrastructure is very real. The problem is that our Congress has no clue what to do about it, but politically they have to "do-something." More bad law comes from the "do-something" mentality than from misguided ideology or greed.

Suppose that they do create a government agency that can direct private companies, such as those who maintain our electrical power grid, to go off-line to thwart a cyber-attack coming across the Internet? Wouldn't disrupting the power grid be an objective of a cyber-terrorist attack? The bad guys win.

Hardening our networks, building redundant continuity-of-operations servers and storage capabilities, and increasing our counter-attack accuracy and lethality would be a better defense, but that would cost money. A kill switch is much cheaper, and like TSA screening at the airport, creates an illusion that the Congress was able to "do-something."

Posted by: hisroc | February 4, 2011 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Diamond104 wrote: "This idea is outrageous. What "emergency" could possibly occur that would require the government to shut down the entire nation's internet infrastructure, or even a part of it?"

Before you all fly off the handle and start a whine fest, pay attention to what you're reading and take the time to do your homework.

1. This article discusses a hypothetical "placeholder" for the disconnection of certain internet communications. That part of the legislation hasn't been written yet.
2. One draft piece of legislation last year would have given the President the authority to "disconnect" federal government networks and, in certain cases, critical infrastructure (e.g. systems that operate power grid, energy, financial systems, etc.) during a cyber emergency. It didn't give him the authority to shut down the Internet, which is inherently designed NOT to be shut down.
3. To answer your question, there are many scenarios in which the first step to mitigating a cyber attack would be to disconnect the network to stop the malicious activity. Those scenarios can include, for example:
a. A severe infestation of malicious code that spreads rapidly and destructively from network to network and disrupts critical infrastructure to the point where the best response is to immediately disconnect infected networks while the infection is removed.
b. A compromised U.S. network that has been compromised and is being used by an adversary to attack U.S. critical infrastructure.
c. A severe, destructive cyber attack against government networks or critical infrastructure where communications would need to be severed to prevent physical or logical damage.

All of these scenarios are elements of cyberwarfare and, while somewhat remote, are entirely plausible. These things already occur regularly on a smaller scale.

Posted by: RufusPlimpton | February 4, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Cecilia Kang - this is sloppy journalism. The only factual content in your article is the title of the bill. The rest of it is nothing but speculation.

This isn't even legislation yet. It's just a "sense of the Senate" statement containing a set of general objectives for consideration by a committee that would write the legislation. There are no specifics.

All you did was write a sensationalist article based on little more than speculation about legislation that hasn't even been drafted yet. Very sloppy. Even a technology reporter needs a minium of journalistic integrity.

Posted by: RufusPlimpton | February 4, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

This kerfuffle over the Internet “kill-switch” obscures the very real risk of centralized control of the Internet that currently exists. This commentary, “Could it happen here?," examines the current state of corporate control of the Internet and points to signals coming out of Washington indicating that the tide may be turning against centralized control.

Posted by: wallybowen | February 4, 2011 4:17 PM | Report abuse

This kerfuffle over the Internet “kill-switch” obscures the very real risk of centralized control of the Internet that currently exists. This commentary, “Could it happen here?," examines the current state of corporate control of the Internet and points to signals coming out of Washington indicating that the tide may be turning against centralized control.

Posted by: wallybowen | February 4, 2011 4:22 PM | Report abuse

This kerfuffle over the Internet “kill-switch” obscures the very real risk of centralized control of the Internet that currently exists. This commentary, “Could it happen here?," examines the current state of corporate control of the Internet and points to signals coming out of Washington indicating that the tide may be turning against centralized control. http://tinyurl.com/4hb3m2d

Posted by: wallybowen | February 4, 2011 4:23 PM | Report abuse

This kerfuffle over the Internet “kill-switch” obscures the very real risk of centralized control of the Internet that currently exists. This commentary, “Could it happen here?," examines the current state of corporate control of the Internet and points to signals coming out of Washington indicating that the tide may be turning against centralized control. http://tinyurl.com/4hb3m2d

Posted by: wallybowen | February 4, 2011 4:27 PM | Report abuse

This kerfuffle over the Internet “kill-switch” obscures the very real risk of centralized control of the Internet that currently exists. This commentary, “Could it happen here?," examines the current state of corporate control of the Internet and points to signals coming out of Washington indicating that the tide may be turning against centralized control. http://tinyurl.com/4hb3m2d

Posted by: wallybowen | February 4, 2011 4:30 PM | Report abuse

This kerfuffle over the Internet “kill-switch” obscures the very real risk of centralized control of the Internet that currently exists. This commentary, “Could it happen here?," examines the current state of corporate control of the Internet and points to signals coming out of Washington indicating that the tide may be turning against centralized control. http://tinyurl.com/4hb3m2d

Posted by: wallybowen | February 4, 2011 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Hey, now that Hosni Mubarak looks like he's going to be out of the job he could bring his expertise in this subject to America. He would be a perfect choice to man the switch.

What we need to do to avoid this scenario is continue to push for alternate connections to prevent this from being a realistic possibility.

Posted by: staticvars | February 5, 2011 9:38 AM | Report abuse

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!!!!

With every step we take toward tyranny, we come one more step closer to tyranny. We are already under a level of constant surveillance that Joseph Stalin would have lusted after in his wettest dreams. Our travel is restricted. Our speech is perceived to be constrained by our employers. We are subject to searches whenever we go out of doors, and our homes can be searched under the flimsiest suspicions.

Some day we will awaken and find ourselves checkmated, indeed if we are not already. We now have only the barest illusion of liberty and democracy in the United States, and if we get too uppity we evidently will see even that illusion taken from us.

I find it interesting that self-styled "libertarians" tend to favor Republicans. It is Republicans who have taken our real liberties from us, systematically and deliberately.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | February 5, 2011 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Nobody called me into a Capitol Hill hearing to speak my thoughts, so here it is.

1. When the US Government gets involved in the communicatons, it treads softly on the First Amendment tot he US Constitution.

2. The Internet, is not a "utility," therefore regulation is absurd.

3. Since the Internet is made up primarily of private entities and since most domains are belong to private individuals, a "Kill Switch" may be allowed for government domains, but not private ones.

4. Around 1999, we had the "Lovebug" virus floating around and private enterprise was able to keep it under control and eliminate it. The Feds didn't really start picking up the pieces until three months after the incident surfaced.

5. People have the power to turn their machines off. Having government take control is censorship.

6. Let the Executive Branch get a writ from the Court to "shut it down," (if they can) not have a boy-king who has already demonstrated his prowess at kissing foreign dicators butts and selling our industry and jobs down the river the power, to completely destroy the US infrastructure.

Posted by: Computer_Forensics_Expert_Computer_Expert_Witness | February 5, 2011 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Harry Reid? The guy who shoved Obamacare down our throats under the cover of darkness behind closed doors? This bill is nothing but a veiled grab for power. And they all know it.

Posted by: MRGB | February 5, 2011 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Gee, what a great idea, especially for people who have no other form of communication during an emergency.

Posted by: carlaclaws | February 5, 2011 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, eh? Baloney. You fools can't even get onto an aircraft without being sexually molested by the TSA.

This is what you get for starting all your illegal wars and interfering with other nations. You have made the USA the major target of attack and heaven help you if it is found that the USA launched Stuxnet, because this worm can be turned - against the USA.

It's called BLOWBACK and an Internet kill switch won't help if somebody walks into the control room of a nuclear power station with a memory stick and infects the control systems, leading to another Chernobyl.

BLOWBACK - for waging illegal wars, interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, installing and propping up fascist tyrants so that the USA can steal the resources of nations and all those other international crimes.

BLOWBACK - an Internet kill switch won't save the USA in a cyberwar, simply because the USA is so computerised, that even a small effort by an enemy armed with sophisticated computer viruses and trojans will cause unparalleled havoc.

BLOWBACK - it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Posted by: ziggyzap | February 5, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Ziggyzap, by the way, is available for parties.

Posted by: carlaclaws | February 5, 2011 12:51 PM | Report abuse

If you’re clueless enough to not understand why the lunatic-left d-crat socialists want their BIG GOVERNMENT to have an “internet kill switch” – look at egypt and its hussein-pal dictator mubarak. If that’s not enough, then look at the lunatic-left’s commie pals and debt bankers in china and how they control internet access. NEVER FORGET the key tenet of lunatic-left d-crat socialist extremism: If it exists, it MUST be taxed, regulated, controlled and totally and completely subject to the will and whim of BIG GOVERNMENT bureaucrats.

Posted by: TeaPartyPatriot | February 5, 2011 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Simple to solve: We just go back to using UUCP and dialup connections. Easy, low tech, and requires the phone company to shut down.

uucico: There is and will be a way.

C

Posted by: cz_man | February 5, 2011 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Ziggyzap, by the way, is available for parties.

Posted by: carlaclaws | February 5, 2011 12:51 PM

******************************************

RAOTFLMAO

I'll bet that he "lives in a van down by the river!"

Posted by: hisroc | February 5, 2011 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Even the threat of shutting down the internet is enough to discourage both carriers, who depend upon it for their livelihood, and those who use it, thus regulating speech. Those, for example, who allow Wikileaks, might feel threatened by this and exclude it from their browsers, thereby effectively shutting their voice out. It's very dangerous, and disappointing that it's even being considered. Of course, we've given away most of our civil rights already, so what's one more?

Posted by: garoth | February 5, 2011 9:59 PM | Report abuse

If The Great Obama declares a state of emergency and postpones the 2012 elections so he can stay in office permanently, you can better believe he would have to censor the internet immediately. And he can do this under the cover of a small nuclear war, which he also has the power to make happen.

Posted by: andrewp111 | February 5, 2011 11:00 PM | Report abuse

TeaPartyPatriot wrote: "If you’re clueless enough to not understand why the lunatic-left d-crat socialists want their BIG GOVERNMENT to have an “internet kill switch” – look at egypt and its hussein-pal dictator mubarak."

TeaPartyPatriot, like most of your comrades, you're an uninformed idiot. You know nothing about this legislation and you know even less about cybersecurity and cyberwarfare.

While the tea bagger motto is "never let a fact get in the way of our rhetoric", just for once try to inform yourself and do your homeown.

The tea party is, generally, pro defense and this legislation is part of cyberwarfare strategy. There is no "kill switch" and the intent of the legislation is to REDUCE and clarify the authority of the president to respond to a cyber attack. The old legislation is vague and too prone to misuse by the government. This would restrict government authority, not expand it.

So if you actually had the intelligence to study, you would realize that this legislation is compatible with tea party politics.

Posted by: RufusPlimpton | February 7, 2011 11:48 AM | Report abuse

If I build a road on my property, I own it. If my neighbors then build roads, they own them. If they connect their roads to my road, I DO NOT have the authority to shut down their roads. When we add the fact that free speech can be compromised by this action we are faced with a clear violation of justice when a government decides it "owns" a resource it did not build and did not buy.

Too many businesses now depend on the net to connect their control and automation systems, and this move will shut them down as surely as bombing their buildings. The government is absolutely in the wrong to assume such control. That is the sign of a dictatorship- is that what we are now?

If the government has a problem, let them make their own separate network- as any clear-thinking leader would already have mandated. If our government is vulnerable due to net dependence, then they know how to end that problem while leaving us alone.

Posted by: thorargent | February 7, 2011 4:47 PM | Report abuse

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