Internet “Kill Switch” in USA?

By Shane Cronin


The silence is deafening. You probably haven’t heard or read much about it. This is because the people that are trying to spread the word about the Internet “Kill Switch” are largely niche bloggers who would be directly impacted by the proposed legislation.
The recently resurfaced “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act” would give President Obama and his Homeland Security Department the authority to declare a “cyberspace emergency.” If senate bill co-sponsors Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Susan Collins of Maine successfully pass this bill, DHS will, “establish and maintain a list of systems or assets that constitute covered critical infrastructure.” Essentially the president would be able to shut down the entire web without consulting the judiciary. Although the criteria for “critical infrastructure” have supposedly been modified and tightened since the introduction of the “Kill Switch” last year, it is no less alarming.
“For all of its user-friendly allure, the Internet can also be a dangerous place with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets,” Lieberman warned of the penetrability of the Net. Thank you, Senator, for that brilliant technical analysis. According to a report, it appears that the bill has bipartisan support.
If this bill were introduced under a Republican administration, I dare say, the liberal media would be out for blood. The circumstances surrounding the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act” under the Obama administration feel eerily like those surrounding the passage of the USA Patriot Act after September 11. The left went batty over secret wiretapping, surveillance and the jailing of suspected terrorists – all without judicial consent and under the broadly-defined guise of “national security.” But when Obama signed a partial extension of the bill last year, all was quiet on the western front. Overnight, the press went from railing Bush about abusing civil liberties to barely covering the story under Obama. It appears the “Kill Switch,” which grants one man the authority to blackout mass media in America, is in for similar kid glove treatment.   

Disappointingly, the “Kill Switch” issue hasn’t received much play on talk radio either. 
This bill is so troubling because (I won’t even mention the new bureaucracy that will be created as a result of its passage) Americans increasingly get their news and other information from the Internet. Online news is now more popular than radio and newspapers, and the web medium is fast closing in on television. It won’t be long before the two fully merge in the mainstream.
Consider this.

Major telecommunications corporations such as AT&T and Verizon already spend millions of dollars each year on cyber security. We also have the FBI and other governmental agencies monitoring and acting upon potential Internet threats. No, their efforts do not provide an impenetrable shield against hackers, but shutting down the whole system is not the solution to solving these problems. Internet security breaches have occurred in recent years, and they will happen in the future. Recall some of the major financial security breaches in recent years including that with the TJX Companies and BJ’s wholesale club. Millions of credit cards and bank accounts were compromised in those situations. But in the case of TJX, it was years before the company caught on to the breach. Many major Internet security breaches are discovered after the fact – rendering a “Kill Switch” a moot solution, anyway.

Furthermore, I find it more than coincidental that the “Kill Switch” comes in the wake of renewed interest in reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine is code for curbing Fox News, talk radio and conservative websites. Given this administration’s attitude toward these outlets, this type of court-exempt power is bad news.

Look at the situation in Egypt.
The Egyptian government almost unilaterally blacked out Internet access nationwide, as well as most cell phone service last week due to the massive citizen protests in Cairo. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have denounced this move – particularly the blocking of social networking sites.
Therefore, I beg the question, if the president feels the Internet should remain operational during a period of citizen revolt, a capital city in flames, a plunging stock exchange, rising death toll and the very real threat of a terrorist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, taking control of the nation, what exactly qualifies as an “emergency” scenario in which the Internet should be disconnected?
According to, Homeland Security is using a Hoover Dam breach as an example scenario. If someone was to gain access to the dam’s computers, he could haphazardly open the floodgates, so to speak. In theory, armed with the ability to freeze the Internet, the president could prevent such a catastrophic attack. However, this is assuming that the government will have prior knowledge of such a breach.

Living in an America with an Internet “Kill Switch” in the Oval Office is a frightening idea. The press needs to wake up and report on it before it loses the ability to do so.   

Shane Cronin is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]