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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Reader comments

Wed, Sep 9, 2009

Why is this even required, then? The president shouldn't have to order the disconnection of a compromised network or even a pre-emptive disconnect to prevent compromise.

Wed, Sep 9, 2009 dholland

As with just about every Bill under question these days, the language is open to high scrutiny by anyone who is smart enough to have an opinion. As noted by another poster, the author has (or may have) limited knowledge of what they write about here. Equally at fault are the legal junkies that wrote the Bills and injected vague and unspecific language that opens up huge debate and interpretation. I question where and who presented the information to the Bills author in the first place.

Wed, Sep 9, 2009 Ponder This

Does giving the government more power of the people sound like a good idea? Stop marganalizing American's and pay attention! We lose freedom's every day we are NOT gaining freedom's. Bush/Obama/Clinton/Nixon, etc., administrations are all puppets to the Council on Foreign Relations. Go find out for yourself!

Wed, Sep 9, 2009

Those who are OK with this need to honestly consider the following: Would you be OK with former President Bush having this power? Can you honestly say there will be no chance of "shutdown" decisions being politically motivated? Since the financial industry can be deemed "critical," there could be justification for shutting down ISPs to prevent a "run" on the banks.

Tue, Sep 8, 2009 RayW

While I can not find any place it says "The President can shut down any network", it does give the President or his designee the power to declare a network as a 'critical resource', and then do what he wants. A small difference, but one none the less. My question is, does this fall under the powers of a president or is it the fact that we essentially have a one ruler system now and anything goes? Eminent domain is a powerful and abused tool today, this has the ability to be as bad or worse for the same reasons.

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