Proposed Cybersecurity Bill Would Give the President Unprecedented Control Over the Internet

Justin Kerr

Back in April we reported on new legislation which, if passed, would give the president the authority to take control of the Internet . Over four months later it appears that not only has this bill continued to be worked on, but it is now closer to fruition than ever before. Revisions to the legislation made by the office of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, remains “vague” according to Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance. “It is unclear what authority Sen. Rockefeller thinks is necessary over the private sector. Unless this is clarified, we cannot properly analyze, let alone support the bill.

The legislation which is now up to 55 pages in length isn’t all controversial, in fact the only section that is being hotly debated at the moment is Section 201. In this section the President is permitted to “direct the nations response to the cyber threat” if necessary for “the national defense and security.” This would allow the White House to engage in “periodic mapping” of private networks that are determined to be critical, and those companies will “share” requested information with the federal government. In plain English, this simply means that if your company is deemed “critical”, regulations determine who you can hire, what information you can disclose, and under what conditions the government can take control over your companies computers or network.

“The language has changed but it doesn’t contain any real additional limits,” according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It simply switches the more direct and obvious language they had originally to the more ambiguous version. The designation of what is a critical infrastructure system or network as far as I can tell has no specific process”.

CNET’s Declan McCullagh spoke with White House deputy communications director Jena Longo who issued the following written statement:

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”.

Do you think this is a serous threat? Or do legislators need to stop watching late night re-runs of Die Hard?

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