Egypt, the protests and the kill switch

International example bears little resemblance to U.S. cybersecurity bill

Does the recent Egyptian communications blackout tell us anything about proposed security legislation in the United States that critics say would give the president an Internet kill switch?

In a word, not really. OK, two words.

There is a superficial similarity: Egypt’s dictatorial regime shut down the Internet and mobile phone service by ordering carriers to disconnect. The security legislation, which Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced unsuccessfully last year and are planning to try again, would give the U.S. president the power to order the shutdown of some portions of the Internet during a declared cyber emergency.

However, there are some critical differences. First, whatever you think of the policies of the president — current, past or future — the president is not a dictator. He is bound by the law.

Second, the law in this case permits the shutdown only under specific circumstances and only in a limited way.

A Google search can turn up many links breathlessly warning of a kill switch that would give the president the power to take over and shut down the Internet. The reality is much more sober. Under the proposed legislation, the president would have limited power to require the disconnection of a targeted critical infrastructure system only when there was a credible threat and only with notification to Congress and the owners and operators of the affected critical infrastructure. And any measures taken would have to be the least disruptive possible.

That is quite a bit less than a kill switch.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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