Senate bill approved without kill switch provision

First, the good news for everyone who's worried that proposed legislation would give the president the authority to unplug the Internet at his discretion. Late last month, a Senate committee approved the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (S. 3480) without any so-called kill-switch provision.

Now the bad news: The president already has that authority.

Rumors of a kill-switch provision have been circulating online for weeks, much to the alarm of civil liberties organizations. But cybersecurity guru Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, set the record straight in an article for Government Computer News, one of Federal Computer Week's sister publications.

Paller said Sec. 706(c) of the Communications Act of 1934 gives the president the power to shut down or disrupt communications network traffic during a national security emergency. “The press has been totally fooled by IT and telephone company lobbyists,” Paller said.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thomas Carper (D-Del.), would amend the Homeland Security Act to create a comprehensive framework for cybersecurity. It would also put the Homeland Security Department in charge of the security of the nation’s critical infrastructure, including the Internet. The measure would create an office and director of cyberspace policy and require all agencies and companies that control critical infrastructure to have emergency response plans that would be activated during a national cyber emergency.

Even without a kill switch, the legislation is drawing fire.

Last month, 24 privacy and civil liberties groups sent a letter to the bill's sponsors to share their concerns about the legislation, reports Grant Gross at IDG News Service.

Among other concerns, the groups said the bill does not clearly define what qualifies as critical infrastructure. That lack of clarity raises fears that the legislation could affect “elements of the Internet that Americans rely on every day to engage in free speech and to access information," states the letter, which was sent by the Center for Democracy and Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups.

 

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