The Internet “Kill Switch” – Tin Foil Hat Time?

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Internet networking sites have been abuzz with rumors that legislation is under consideration that would give the President of the United States an Internet “Kill Switch.” That is, the right to shut down the Internet at any time, or, if you are more reasonable, during times of war or impending/occurring cyberattack.

Apparently, an unnamed Senate committee has approved the legislation as of Thursday. Proponents, such as Senator Joe Lieberman, say the legislation actually restricts presidential powers extended to him under the Communications Act of 1934. (Read about the legislation on Techworld)

The so-called Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act has people from all sides of the political spectrum concerned.

The same Techworld article referenced above has this to say:

The bill, introduced earlier this month, would establish a White House Office for Cyberspace Policy and a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications, which would work with private US companies to create cybersecurity requirements for the electrical grid, telecommunications networks and other critical infrastructure.

The bill also would allow the US president to take emergency actions to protect critical parts of the Internet, including ordering owners of critical infrastructure to implement emergency response plans, during a cyber-emergency. The president would need congressional approval to extend a national cyber-emergency beyond 120 days under an amendment to the legislation approved by the committee.

The legislation would give the US Department of Homeland Security authority that it does not now have to respond to cyber-attacks, Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said earlier this month.

So, another layer of government agencies and control. Neat. And, by neat, I mean “here comes Big Brother.”

Is it any wonder that civil rights and privacy groups sent a coordinated later stating their concerns? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a leading protector of online civil rights, was one of the groups signing the letter. I went to their site to find out what they had to say about the legislation and found … nothing. Strange. But then, I had to search long and hard when I wanted to read their views on Net Neutrality as well. Perhaps it’s there, just cleverly concealed/buried.

The Techworld article summarizes my fears, perhaps accidentally. The bill gives the government the right to mandate policy to critical infrastructure, including telecommunications networks. Then, it gives the President the right to protect that critical infrastructure. Excuse me, but aren’t Internet Service Providers (ISPs) telecommunications networks? Yeah. Thought so. So, basically, this bill gives the President the legal authority to control the entire Internet in time of a “cyber-emergency.”

As if that weren’t scary enough, one has to see this legislation in context. I’ve already written about the government involving itself in journalism and new media, and we all know how completely peaceful conservative groups, such as the Tea Party movement, are being labeled as “hate groups.” When the government gets to decide what is valid journalism, what peaceful, free speech is safe and what is dangerous, and then announces widespread plans to take over the Internet in the name of Net Neutrality or cyber-security, I seen a very, very dangerous trend emerging.

How many feel-good bits of legislation are going to be passed in the name of free speech, when in fact they stifle it? How many acts are going to be passed for our own protection, when the people we need protection from the most are our own government officials?

Think I’m being paranoid?

In the short span of time my blog has been up and running, I’ve already been visited by the Department of Homeland Security and a private, DC-based security firm, Cyveillance.

How do I know Cyveillance is doing government work? I don’t. I just suspect they are as they are running the same, outdated version of Internet Explorer as DHS (IE 6.0) and the same operating system. Running several years behind the times, and in the exact same way, has government written all over it.

And, those are just the visits I know about. It’s extremely easy to not show up on client-side web stat counters (just turn off the automatic loading of images.)

Perhaps it’s just that two government employees find my blog interesting and decided to surf it at work. I find that doubtful. After all, there’s no porn. But when Cyveillance specifically targets a post, by URL, through a Google search, and that post is on the “problems with Civil Rights groups,” I start to wonder.

Make no mistake, the government is interfering where it has no right. Is this legislation part of that interference, or is it really in our “best interests” to give power over the entire Internet to one man? Let’s be clear on this: it was probably harder for Pakistan to shut off access to Facebook during “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day” than it will be for Obama to stifle us all in one fell swoop.

Liberty? Freedom of Speech? Wherefore art though?

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Comments
5 Responses to “The Internet “Kill Switch” – Tin Foil Hat Time?”
  1. Joseph Veca says:

    This “Internet Kill Switch” bill is nothing of the sort. The bill is S.3480 “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010”. You can look it up at http://thomas.loc.gov (Library of Congress legislation resorce) and click the Search Bill Summary & Status by Bill Number type S. 3480 in the search field.

    I actually read the bill (it makes a great tranquilizer if you can’t sleep) and what the bill actually does is create a Net Law enforcement arm for the Department of Homeland Gestapo. This is the reason why the EFF and other civil libertarians organizations are not worried about it.

    Now here is the part the fear mongers have failed to take into consideration.

    1. Telecommunications in the US (which includes cell service and the Internet) is deliberately decentralized, there is no main hub to fail that would take it out in one fell swoop, it was specifically designed that way to prevent enemies of the US from taking out our information communications infrastructure.
    2. The United States Government does not have the man power to totally disable the internet
    3. Any attempt by the US Government to do so would result in the US Government losing around 90% of its communications abilities because they use private sector telecom companies. While the military doesn’t rely on private sector, the civil government does.

    On the basis of these three issues alone, there is no way to actually “kill the internet”

    • ChrisIsRIGHT says:

      Joseph,

      Yes. I actually referenced the bill by name and outlined what it does in my post.

      You state EFF isn’t concerned, and yet EFF along with 23 other civil rights groups have written a letter of concern stating the bill needs further clarification on several vital points. I’ve uploaded that letter to this site and you can read it here. (PDF File)

      The bill also mandates all “critical infrastructure” devise an emergency plan, conforming to the bill, and grants the President the right to invoke a “cyber emergency” which requires whatever agencies comprise that infrastructure to carry out those plans.

      As someone who has worked in the computer industry for 20 years, I’m well aware of the de-centralized, peer-to-peer nature of the Internet. I’m also aware how few companies are actually involved in the Internet “backbone.” The government may not demand your ISP shut down in times of an emergency, but shut down an upstream provider, and you’re toast. There are only about 14 Tier 1 networks in the world (according to publicly available information) and roughly 6 of those are in the US.

      Meanwhile, the government has been working since 2007 to streamline its internet connectivity under the term “Trusted Internet Connections.” Right now, this process is in transition, and only ONE provider is cleared: AT&T (Read about it here and, in general, here.)

      Also, each of the main service providers is split into regions and hubs. It’s entirely possible to block or remove hubs from the network, or to restrict access by blocks of IP addresses.

      In other words, it would be the work of a minute for Sprint, or Qwest, or AT&T to stop service to Seattle, while maintaining service to DC.

      • Joseph Veca says:

        My personal take on the this bill is that it is a smoke screen bill, it is specifically designed to give the Civil Libertarians something to chew on, while the congress critters work on something that is really going to torque people off if they weren’t distracted.

        • ChrisIsRIGHT says:

          I disagree wholeheartedly. As written, the bill gives the government unprecedented and unspecified powers to dictate, apparently to everyone, what parts of the Internet are critical and to what level the Internet can be controlled. Combine this with the FCC’s governance of the Internet under the guise of Net Neutrality (something which the EFF supports in concept, but not in the FCC’s execution), and I don’t see how anything could be more dangerous to freedom of information and communication.

  2. Joseph Veca says:

    Here is my reason for thinking that S.3480 is a smoke screen bill it reminds me too much of HR1955: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 was voted on in congress passed and the vote was 404 IN FAVOR, 6 AGAINST back at the end of 2008 (it languished in committee for the better part of a year) just before the elections. And as usually the progressives said nothing, 10 Media Major Media outlets, and not a peep out of them. When I called my local news agencies, all I got was “we’ll look into it”.

    One of the most important protected freedoms we have is under attack and not a bloody peep out of the very people most Americans rely on for their news and information. It makes you wonder whose side they are actually on.

    I wrote an article about it in Jan of 2008, you can find it by Clicking Here HR1955 and its senate counter part S1959 both died because the senate bill never got out of committee.

    I would love to see the CBO score on it, the cost is going to be a real humdinger.

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