Internet Kill Switch?

Presidential power online


Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is worried about the Internet. At a June press conference in Washington, D.C., he warned that, thanks to America's increasing dependence on Internet infrastructure, the country's "economic security, national security, and public safety are now all at risk from new kinds of enemies—cyber-warriors, cyber-spies, cyber-terrorists, and cyber-criminals."

Lieberman's solution? Put the president in charge.

Together with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), Lieberman has introduced legislation that would give the executive branch significant new cyber-security staff and powers. The Protecting Cyberspace As a National Asset Act of 2010 calls for the installation of a Senate-confirmed cyber-security czar at the White House as well as the creation of a new cyber-security bureaucracy, the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications, within the Department of Homeland Security. With those new offices comes new authority: If the president were to declare a cyber-security emergency, the director of the new bureaucracy would be given broad powers over any business the administration designated as critical to Internet infrastructure. 

Critics worry that the new powers effectively give the president access to an Internet "kill switch" and warn that even if it's never used, the very existence of such a power could fundamentally alter the evolution of the Net. "The Internet that will evolve if government can resort to a 'kill switch' will be vastly different from, and inferior to, the safer one that will emerge otherwise," says Clyde Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. "Security is a competitive feature, one best advanced by nonpolitical solutions."