Bill would give president power to disconnect private networks

Cybersecurity bill proposes giving government agency broad power during attacks

Editor's note: This story was modified after its initial publication, to correct erroneous information.

A Senate bill introduced earlier this year and still under consideration would give the president the power to shut down and disconnect certain private computer networks or systems compromised by a cyberattack.

Meanwhile, a revised version of the bill still includes the presidential powers provision, despite protests from Internet companies and technology organizations, according to a report today on CNET.

Giving the federal government control over private networks would be a mistake, said Wayne Crews, director of technology studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“From American telecommunications to the power grid, virtually anything networked to some other computer is potentially fair game to  Obama to exercise ‘emergency powers,’ " Crews said.

However, the language of the bill limits the president's power to the critical infrastructure, a defined set of industries such as power and transportation that are crucial to the nation's operation.

“When government asserts authority over security technologies, it hinders the evolution of more robust information security practices and creates barriers to non-political solutions — both mundane and catastrophic,” Crews said. “The result is that we become less secure, not more secure.”

The bill, S. 773, was introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). The measure was referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in April.

One section of the bill says the president “may order the disconnection of any federal government or United States critical infrastructure information systems or networks in the interest of national security.”

That proposal is in Section 18.

The measure also would require developing a national cybersecurity strategy that includes giving the president emergency powers.

The bill also proposes that the president will designate an agency to be responsible for coordinating the response and restoration of government or private networks and information systems.

Instead of giving the federal government new powers, Crews said the Obama administration should focus on “securing government networks and keeping government agencies on the cutting edge of communications technology.”





About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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